Florida coasts have grown, but hurricane
damage risk hasn't
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
Schneider, Jennifer Kay and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel
June 7, 2015
Since eight hurricanes whipped through Florida during
back-to-back seasons a decade ago, causing $33 billion in insurance
claims, the state's coastal communities have added an additional 1.5
million people and almost a half-million new houses, an Associated Press
But experts say the risk of catastrophic destruction hasn't grown along
with the new development because Florida builders are doing a better job
of making structures hurricane-resistant.
The improvement derives from Florida's statewide building code, which
was implemented in 2002, a decade after Hurricane Andrew's 165-mph winds
gutted parts of South Florida. The code means that all new structures
get tough inspections and are built with shatter-proof glass and straps
reinforcing the connection between roof and walls.
More than two-thirds of Florida's almost 20 million residents live in
"The building code changes have made a huge difference," said Shahid
Hamid, a professor at the International Hurricane Research Center at
Florida International University. "You have more houses being built, and
that certainly means more exposure and losses will go up, but on the
other hand, the houses that are more recently built are better built and
can perform better in hurricanes."
The stronger building standards haven't translated into reduced
insurance premiums. Florida homeowners still pay about twice the
national average for insurance, and rates in the Sunshine State are
still the most expensive in the nation.
Although Florida's building code hasn't been put to a widespread
challenge, it did pass a limited test when Hurricane Wilma blew across
the state in 2005. The hurricane made landfall in southwest Florida's
Collier County, home to Naples, and then weakened as it chugged across
the state toward Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Even though the
hurricane was much fiercer in southwest Florida, Collier County only had
$408 million in claims compared to more than $3 billion in Broward
County and $2 billion in Miami-Dade County. Collier County had much
newer buildings that had been constructed using the code compared to the
two South Florida counties, whose dwellings were significantly older.
The three counties that make up South Florida — Broward, Miami-Dade and
Palm Beach — account for more than half of the $337 billion increase in
property values along Florida's coast in the last decade. The values of
all properties in Florida's coastal counties reached $1.5 trillion last
year, according to AP calculations based on Florida Department of
Parks have been added between buildings and Biscayne Bay in Miami. The
green spaces appeal to luxury home buyers looking for urban amenities
within walking distance, but they also act as buffers against storm
surge, said Carlos Rosso, whose Miami-based development company has
built gleaming, waterfront condominium towers from Miami to Fort
Lauderdale in recent years.
"We are trying to create a little more conscientiousness about it," said
Rosso, president of the condominium division of The Related Group.
The new buildings have largely empty ground floors in case of flooding
and residences constructed on floors well above storm surge projections.
They're also equipped with emergency generators and shatter-proof glass
windows, all meant to minimize damage from even the worst of storms.
Developers have built a secluded string of beach communities lined with
multimillion-dollar residences between the high-rise condominiums, chain
restaurants and miniature golf courses from Destin in the west and
Panama City in the east. The beach communities known as 30A for the road
that winds through them have become home to well-known politicians,
professional athletes and Nashville recording stars.
Property values in the two counties that stretch between Destin and
Panama City — Bay and Walton counties — have jumped by more than 50
percent as a result.
Along the far southern coastal part of Walton County, where homes sell
for seven figures, real estate development is now worth $13 billion,
said Walton County Commissioner Cindy Meadows.
"We are seeing a different sort of house," Meadows said. "Most use
concrete piling and all of the latest hurricane reinforcements."
Homeowners paying $3 million or more for a vacation home understand the
risk of investing in an area where hurricanes can strike, and the
strengthened building codes provide confidence that the structures can
withstand high-intensity storms, said Scott Kurfirst, co-founder of
Coastal Elements Construction, which builds beachfront mansions.
Builders use straps reinforcing the connection between roof and walls
throughout the homes and a lot of reinforced concrete, he said.
"It isn't a huge concern that buyers talk about," Kurfirst said. "The
structures are incredibly solid."