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Hurricane Michael and the Impact of the Florida Building Code

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Picture of billboard damaged by a hurricane

Hurricane Michael made landfall at 2pm on October 10, 2018. Given the turnover of the news cycle, that may have well been 10 years ago. The headlines of 155 mph winds, a 14 ft storm surge, and the images of the catastrophic damage left behind are a distant memory in the subconscious of many Floridians. But not to those who live there. The reminders have been staring them in the face every day for the last 3 months, as they struggle to put their communities back together.

After the storm, RGA-Design was contacted to do a damage assessment for a multi-family residential (MFR) complex in Panama City. Even after a month of cleanup, the amount of destruction in the area was staggering. But what the public doesn’t see after the media moves on to the next big story is the new reality of everyday life in the aftermath of the storm. While yes, FEMA and charitable organizations do everything they can with the limited resources that they have, there is no magical convoy of trucks and construction workers showing up to save the day. People are still living in tents, RVs, cars, hotels, trailers, friend’s homes, or remnants of what used to be buildings, using plywood and blue tarps to shield them from the elements, because they have nowhere else to go. 

While doing the assessment, team members from RGA noticed that while the MFR complex we were assessing had sustained substantial damage, the complex next door was relatively unscathed. The proximity of the complexes to each other meant that they had endured nearly identical conditions during the hurricane. So why did one look like a bomb was dropped on it and the other look like a bad thunderstorm rolled through? The answer is the Florida Building Code.

After Hurricane Andrew flattened large areas of southern Florida in 1992, the state took a hard look at the building codes around the state. Before then, building codes were adopted on a local level and varied widely between jurisdictions. After years of studies, the state adopted the Florida Building Code (FBC) in 2002. The FBC has been touted as one of the strictest building codes in the nation and has undoubtedly saved lives and property across Florida since its implementation.

When the RGA team did some research into the two MFR complexes, the complex that we were assessing was built in 1969, well before the FBC was enacted. The adjacent complex (the yellow buildings below) had gone under a major renovation in 2011, which would have required construction to comply with the FBC. This is just one example of many around Panama City and the panhandle at large of how much of a difference the FBC has made in a building’s ability to survive a hurricane intact. 

So what can we, the construction community and residents of Florida, do to mitigate the damage caused by these powerful storms? We can't allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security if Florida happens to go awhile until the next Michael or Irma or Andrew. We need to persuade our state representatives to ignore the people that favor weaker codes, who want to build inferior products that are not capable of surviving hurricanes in order to save time and money. We need to police ourselves to ensure our subs are not cutting corners on jobs. If the structures we build are more resilient, this allows communities to come back together faster and thrive. It also allows for a less costly repair and rebuild, saving tax dollars. The temptation of quick profit and a “can’t see it from my house” attitude make this issue easy to ignore until it is your house in the path of a major hurricane, it is your roof in the neighbor’s yard because someone skimped on hurricane clips and impact resistant glass, and it is you trying to figure out where you’re going to keep your family safe. And if you’ve lived in Florida long enough, you know it’s not “if” but “when”.

RGA-Design has over 27 years of experience in assessing damage from natural disasters and repairing and restoring structures affected by such events. RGA Design Forensics is capable of providing expert witness services for when damage from natural disasters leads to litigation.


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