USA - A California-Style Approach Could Save Florida Homes During Hurricanes

As damage assessment is done post-Hurricane Ian, engineers are finding that Florida buildings up to date with the newest building code sustained less damage than buildings implementing older code, raising questions as to whether Florida should adopt a policy of retrofitting older homes to prevent damage in the future.

Upon Hurricane Ian's Florida arrival, buildings were subjected to Category 4 hurricane winds, torrential rain and up to 12 feet of storm surge in western Florida coastal cities like Fort Myers and Cape Coral. A new study from a team at the University of Notre Dame found buildings that were up to date with building codes tended to fare best, and while bringing older buildings up to code could prevent damage, it would require a significant investment.

Tracy Kijewski-Correa, an engineering professor at the University of Notre Dame and the director of Pulte Institute for Global Development, and her team used Google imaging to survey damage from the storm. They found that buildings with up-to-date building codes in Florida fared significantly better than those with older codes. By retrofitting older buildings to be better protected from storms, coastal states might see less significant damage following a climate-related disaster.

"If the vast majority [of buildings] are not touched by the latest [building codes], then you will always be vulnerable," she said. "All the structures built to modern code perform quite well."

Mandatory Retrofitting

Some states have already implemented mandatory retrofitting of vulnerable buildings.

In California, there's a mandatory retrofit for certain buildings susceptible to earthquake damage, such as those that feature an open garage or storefront on the first floor. California's Earthquake Brace + Bolt program offers select homeowners up to $3,000 toward the renovations and as of 2021, an estimated 1 million homes needed to be retrofitted, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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