The Legacy of Hurricane Andrew: Strong Building Codes Only Work if They Are Enforced, Says IBHS

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Storm highlighted the crucial role of strong, well-enforced building codes in reducing storm-related damage

Hurricane Andrew by the Numbers

Hurricane Andrew, which made landfall in the U.S. on August 24, 1992, was one of the most destructive natural catastrophes in the nation’s history, and it highlighted the crucial role of strong, well-enforced building codes in reducing storm-related damage, said the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida as a Category 5 storm, causing more than $26 billion of insured damage in 2012 dollars. The storm left behind miles of debris that was once housing for 250,000 residents and commercial buildings for more than 80,000 businesses in a region that then was considered to have some of the best storm-resistant building codes in the nation.

“What Andrew made tragically clear was that South Florida’s relatively strong building codes simply were not being enforced,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. “After the storm, we saw extensive evidence of both large and small breakdowns in the code enforcement process. Sadly, that poor enforcement needlessly cost families and communities dearly.”

Harsh lessons taught by Andrew spurred Florida’s coastal counties to reevaluate their own building code standards and enforcement mechanisms. As a result, just a few years later, in the mid-1990s, high-wind engineering-based design and construction requirements in the standard building code were adopted in coastal counties. Then, in 2002, Florida adopted a statewide building code including high-wind provisions. It was accompanied by extensive education and training requirements for all licensed engineers, architects and contractors.

“Hurricane Andrew demonstrated how important good, well-enforced building codes are,” Rochman added. “Some states, like Florida, took necessary steps to protect citizens by adopting a good statewide building code. It is important to remember that codes are literally a minimum building standard. Everyone, everywhere, deserves to live in a home that meets basic, minimum safety standards. Unfortunately, several states – including some along the hurricane-exposed Gulf and Atlantic Coasts – still have not adopted statewide minimum building standards.”

Multiple studies have been conducted which demonstrate the positive impact of modern, engineering- based building codes on the performance of residential homes during a severe high-wind event. Among them are:

  •     an IBHS study conducted following Hurricane Charley (2004); it found that adoption and enforcement of modern building codes reduced the severity of residential property claims by 42% and the number of residential property claims by 60%; and,
  •     a study commissioned by the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), which found that, if states in hurricane-prone areas had begun adopting and enforcing modern building codes in 1988, wind-related property losses could have been reduced by nearly $13 billion dollars.

Also, earlier this year, IBHS analyzed building code requirements and enforcement policies in the 18 hurricane-prone states along the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines from Texas to Maine. This first-of-its-kind report, Rating the States: An Assessment of Residential Building Code and Enforcement Systems for Life Safety and Property Protection in Hurricane-Prone Regions, found that codes in many coastal states still do not provide a uniform level of protection. The lack of uniformity results in real consequences for people in harm’s way.

“With $10 trillion in existing property exposed along the vulnerable Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, states must take a proactive approach to disaster preparedness,” Rochman said, “and that obviously starts with adoption and enforcement of strong statewide building codes.”

IBHS’ Disaster Safety Review, Volume 2, released today, is devoted to spotlighting topics related to the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew.

IBHS is a leading national expert on preparing for, and repairing and rebuilding structures after a catastrophe to make them more disaster-resistant. To arrange an interview with IBHS, contact Joseph King at 813-675-1045/813-442-2845, jking(at)ibhs(dot)org or via direct message on Twitter @jsalking.

Visit DisasterSafety.org for more information about how to make your buildings more resistant to a variety of disasters, large and small. Follow IBHS on Twitter at @DisasterSafety and on Facebook.

Editor’s note: IBHS has produced additional media assets for use with this story, including a hi-def video documentary with interviews of key IBHS executives and hi-res photos. To access and download the extra assets please visit the Hurricane Andrew 20th Anniversary Resources page.

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About the IBHS
IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks on residential and commercial property by conducting building science research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparedness practices.

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