Many Floridians have seen images of the two-story house on the Panhandle coastline raised on sturdy pillars anchored solidly in the ground and capped by a metal hip roof that was still stands among the sea of carnage Hurricane Michael left in its wake. This reinforces what many have long known: It is possible to build a house that can withstand the winds and surging water from major hurricanes. But as is usually the case, the matter is not that simple.
In the wake of Hurricane Andrew’s 1992 destructive trek across South Florida, the state mandated a major rewrite of building codes. The goal was to make residences and commercial buildings better able to withstand the impact of Andrew-like storms. Unfortunately, many of the buildings in the part of the state where Michael struck — called the Emerald Coast by some and the Redneck Riviera by others — pre-date the post-Andrew building codes. The structural supports that helped keep the now-iconic house in the Panhandle in one piece well exceed the current codes. Even being at the post-Andrew code standards likely would have helped many buildings in the area avoid total devastation and kept the Michael damage toll from rising to around $10 billion.
The task of rebuilding the places Michael all but wiped out looms, and a major question is whether Florida needs to replace parts of the post-1992 codes with even more rigorous structural requirements. Doing so would make newly constructed buildings much stronger but would make them a lot more expensive to build and — most likely — insure. That could limit the number of people willing or able to rebuild in areas most vulnerable to hurricane damage. Maybe that wouldn’t be the worst outcome.