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Creating Building Resilience in the Aftermath of Destruction

February 03, 2020 Janina Flores

This is the third in a series of articles to bring awareness about the property market conditions that can impact costs associated with your insurance or risk management coverage.

The storm that led to building resiliency

In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana with devastating force. South Florida received the brunt of the storm, encountering sustained winds of 165 miles per hour. At the time, Hurricane Andrew was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, with $27.3 billion in damages. Dade County and the city of Homestead suffered extensive destructive winds that flattened neighborhoods.

This hurricane was a pivotal storm not only for the residents impacted, but for weather forecasters, emergency management professionals, and insurance companies that never anticipated the extent and severity of damage caused by this type of storm. 

The impact of Hurricane Andrew on the insurance industry reverberates to this day. Southern Florida homeowners and businesses suffered so much damage that more than 11 insurance companies filed bankruptcy. Many insurance carriers, unwilling to insure in an unprofitable book of business, left the state. Florida’s state government stepped in to help homeowners and business owners secure insurance by creating several products, including the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. Even though Florida had statewide building codes at the time, the destruction proved that the codes were not sufficient at preventing significant property losses.   

Joining forces to create building resiliency

The insurance crisis created by Hurricane Andrew caused insurance companies and builders to work together to make buildings more resilient to the types of weather experienced in their region. Identifying some of the causes of the inadequate construction, the state invested in building inspector training and better management of contractor licensing. 

The state of Florida overhauled and established a uniform set of building codes, which included the American Society of Civil Engineers wind provision standards. These standards ensure building integrity by not allowing wind or water to get in. The standards for new construction include shatter proof glass; reinforcement straps between the roof and walls; and enhanced anchoring of exterior walls. According to research conducted by Kevin Simmons, PhD, of Austin College, homes that were built after the implementation of the codes in coastal areas of Florida suffered 64 percent less damage than homes built before.

The impact on Texas

Previous InsideRM articles have highlighted the increased number of natural weather events in Texas.  Texas has led the nation in insured catastrophe losses six times in the last 10 years. Texas’ large land mass and diverse environment provide increased exposure to many types of severe weather, such as hurricanes, flooding, high winds, wildfires, and hail.

Texas is ranked number two (behind California) in major declared disasters, with 263 since 1953. Recently, these events have contributed to the difficulty for organizations—including school districts—to secure affordable property coverage. The Texas insurance market has seen property insurance premiums rise in certain areas of the state due to significant weather activity such as hail and hurricanes. In these conditions, integrating building resiliency is paramount.

Building resiliency is a way of constructing buildings using materials and techniques to mitigate severe weather and regional environmental conditions. If you live in the coastal area, it may mean adopting wind provision standards like those in Florida. If you are in the north Texas or the Panhandle, it may mean upgrading your roof to withstand severe hail. The key to building resilience is to be aware of your environment and prepare in advance for those respective risks.

A good example of building resiliency in Texas was demonstrated during Hurricane Ike in 2008. Widespread flooding occurred in Galveston, with rising storm surge topping over the 17-foot seawall. The Bolivar Peninsula took the brunt of the storm, with water exceeding 12 feet above sea level and an estimated 80 percent of the homes on the peninsula lost. However, 10 of 13 homes constructed using FORTIFIED standards were left standing with minor damage. Though there were significant costs to upgrade these homes to the standards, they withstood mother nature.

Texas resources for building resiliency

Adopting stringent buildings codes is a step in the right direction to ensuring newly constructed buildings are resilient. Though Texas does not have a statewide building code for residential or commercial construction, there are resources available to assist schools in integrating resiliency into new construction projects. Schools have access to architects, engineers, and consultants who can provide guidance on constructing educational facilities and help identify and account for local environmental risks.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) is another source to gather information. IBHS is an independent non-profit scientific research company that tests how weather-ready construction and construction materials are. The results of these tests help manufacturers develop and build more resilient homes and commercial structures. IBHS developed the FORTIFIED Home and Commercial program to promote construction and retrofitting of homes and for resilience to natural disasters. FM Approvals is another source that conducts third-party testing and certification services for use in commercial and industrial facilities.  FM Approvals provides guidance on wind uplift performance and severe hail-resistant roofs.  

Resources and training for Property members

The Fund offers education resources and training on roofs and the property market at no additional cost to Property members. This year, the Fund launched online roof maintenance training to help extend the lifecycle of their roofs and a Roof Summit to help superintendents and school business officials make the best decisions for their roofs. TASB staff has also been meeting with architects, roof consultants, and roof manufacturers to collaborate on the best ways to provide schools with information to make their buildings more resistant to extreme weather. Contact your risk solutions consultant for more information about risk prevention services and education that can help you with preventative maintenance.

Navigate the property market

The Fund is here to support our members through all property market conditions. The more informed you are, the better prepared you will be to navigate the hard market. We encourage you to explore the other articles in our Fund 101 series:

About the author

TASB Risk Management Services Director of Risk Solutions Janina Flores leads a team of professionals who provide a variety of services to Fund members to help prevent losses and be aware of and prepared for emerging risks.

Tagged: "disaster preparedness", hurricanes, "severe weather"