Hurricane Ian shows that updated building codes make a difference

Hurricane Ian hit the west Florida coastline with winds in excess of 120 miles per hour. The hurricane flooded cities and devastated homes across Florida and coastal South Carolina. According to Enki Research, Hurricane Ian’s projected economic damage could be as high as $75 billion, and may end up among the five costliest to hit the US after fully assessing the economic damage. One notable exception to the devastation was the coastal city of Punta Gorda, Florida, a city that had the eye of the hurricane pass directly overhead. To the surprise of many, a number of homes and buildings were left largely intact with minimal damage to the building exteriors.

According to experts, buildings constructed under modern building codes are significantly more resilient. Florida enacted a statewide building code update that included some of the toughest storm-specific codes in the country after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. Hurricane Charley decimated Punta Gorda in 2004, and reconstruction of the destroyed homes and buildings used modernized building codes from 2007. The buildings that survived Hurricane Ian largely intact in Punta Gorda used those 2007 building codes.

This is a vivid example that shows that updated building codes make a difference. To address climate change impacts, design firms have a duty to inform the client of known climate change risks and, if the owner decides to incorporate resiliency measures to address those risks, a duty to provide a design solution that addresses those risks. For firms providing services in a jurisdiction that has not updated its building codes, one option that the client should consider for a building renovation or new project is to use an updated building code, such as the latest Florida building code.

As we pointed out in an earlier blog post, a FEMA study has shown that the adoption of modern building codes averts over a billion dollars a year in structural damage in California and Florida alone. It makes sense for firms to use this information to educate the client and offer upgraded services based on updated building codes that address the client’s resiliency concerns.

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