Fla. Insurance Council to Push Mitigation Efforts in Legislature

February 28, 2006

Having paid out more than $30 billion in claims over the past two hurricane seasons in Florida, the Florida Insurance Council will ask lawmakers this legislative session, to push mitigation efforts to combat the destructive forces of future storms.

The FIC, which represents some 200 property insurance carriers throughout the state, says mitigation is the only way to dramatically reduce losses and help ensure the viability of the industry.

“Much of the losses experienced in Florida over the past two storm seasons were to homes built prior to the stricter building codes enacted in the wake of Hurricane Andrew back in 1992,” explained Sam Miller, FIC executive vice president. “However, there are hundreds of thousands of homes in the state that were constructed to lesser standards.”

For this reason, FIC supports efforts to strengthen the Florida Uniform Statewide Building Code by requiring shutters, impact-resistant glass or other opening protections on all new construction where winds of 120 miles or greater have been calculated as likely during a hurricane. Generally, that includes areas up to five miles inland from all coastlines.

FIC also supports legislation to repeal the so-called Panhandle Carveout currently in effect for counties from Franklin, west to Escambia, where window and garage door protections are required only on property one mile or less from the coast.

“This is in line with the recommendations of the Legislature’s Task Force on Long-Term Solutions which is calling for the elimination of the definition of wind exposure class C from Florida’s building code statutes,” Miller added.

Exposure C is characterized by areas exposed to expanses of open terrain or open water and defined in statute as areas that extend 1500 feet landward of the coast.

“This definition omits many other areas of the state where wind forces are considerable higher, exposing home and residents in such areas to great risk,” Miller said.

In its place, the Task Force favors a recommendation from the Florida Building Commission, which would replace the Exposure C definition with the more flexible one determined by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Called the ASCE-7 standard, it does not use arbitrary distances, but instead considers actual circumstances that exist in each exposed area where circumstances can change over time with new construction, deforestation and other developments.

The FBC bases its recommendation on the stronger standard on the fact that concentrated storms like Hurricanes Charley and Andrew maintain their strength and speeds much further inland than one mile.

“We have learned that all of Florida is vulnerable to hurricanes and stricter building codes that have saved homes in South Florida could have saved homes in Central and North Florida as well,” Miller added.

FIC will also ask lawmakers to repeal the internal pressurization option that allows builders to build a stronger skeleton in lieu of protecting windows and garage door openings.

“This makes perfect sense because often the greatest damage to a home occurs when windows and garage doors fail. When that happens, the walls may be left standing but the contents of the home are destroyed,” Miller said. “We believe building codes that apply to areas of the state outside of the Panhandle should be applied to that region as well.”

The Florida House is proposing a hurricane reform package that includes a special mitigation endowment for owners of older homes—homes constructed prior to the major building code reforms of the 1990’s.

Miller says FIC supports the endowment which would provide for no interest loans to homeowners who use the funds to bring their older homes up to the new building standards. The loans would be administered by private financial institution, with priority given to property insured by Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort.

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