By InterNACHI and David J. Foster
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit the United States and caused major damage. It was the third and last most powerful of three Category 5 hurricanes to hit the United States during the 20th century. Andrew hit the Bahamas, southern Florida (south of Miami), and Louisiana. It caused $26.5 billion in damage, with most of the damage located in south Florida. Andrew also caused 65 deaths and left thousands of people homeless.
Andrew and other hurricanes of previous years taught us that a better strategy is needed to protect property and lives. Florida is a vulnerable state, with more than 18 million people, and with 80% of that population living along the state’s hurricane-prone coastal areas.
No matter how carefully houses are located, designed and built in Florida, there are still hundreds of thousands of existing homes that cannot survive intense hurricanes.
Residential buildings can be effectively classified according to their degree of wind vulnerability. That classification recognizes the fact that buildings with wind-resistant features are expected to experience significant reductions in hurricane damage and loss. The reduced risk and associated loss result from both basic house characteristics and features (roof shape, frame vs. masonry, garage, etc.), as well as structural features of the building envelope (roof, deck connection, hurricane straps, shutters, etc). While the existing house characteristics are what they are and cannot be easily modified, the key building envelope features can often be cost-effectively strengthened to provide notable reductions in vulnerability.
It makes a lot of sense for homeowners, by way of economic incentives, to retrofit their homes in a way that incorporates the latest storm damage and mitigation products and technologies. The incentives could take the form of financial grants or homeowner’s insurance policy premium discounts.
Significant financial incentives exist for homeowners to protect their homes by rating structures based on wind vulnerability risk. This fact can translate into a plan that offers the first real opportunity to “fix” the problem of vulnerable housing stock in Florida. If given accurate and objective information, homeowners may choose to invest in mitigation rather than higher insurance premiums. This will produce a “win-win-win” situation for the homeowner, the insurer, and the government.