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Florida's surprising building law following hurricane disaster

Hurricanes and tropical storms are becoming more frequent and more destructive. You might expect that after surviving Andrew and Irma, Florida would be more prepared than ever to handle a natural disaster. However, recent amendments to Florida's building codes have actually left the state in a more vulnerable position than before.

After Hurricane Andrew struck the coast of Florida in 1992-destroying more than 63,000 homes and killing 26 people-the state government took decisive action. In an effort to create more resilient communities, it turned to the International Code Council (ICC). Every three years, the ICC brings together experts in the building and engineering industries. The group issues a series of recommendations to enhance building codes to create safer, stronger construction that can withstand ever-worsening weather conditions.

Florida began adopting these recommendations into their own building codes, and the results were impressive. Homes constructed after Andrew withstood hurricanes and other harsh weather conditions far better than their earlier counterparts. Up until last year, Florida was lauded as having one of the most robust building codes in the nation.

However, home builders associations in Florida were strongly opposed to the amended building codes-contending that more codes increases the cost of homes, making them more difficult to sell. These groups lobbied hard to repeal the ICC building codes last year-and they won. The new codes are minimal by comparison-removing many of the safety requirements that are intended to help a building withstand a storm.

This response is not unique to Florida. The last 20 years have witnessed a seemingly continuous onslaught of destructive weather incidents attacking the U.S. coastline. However, recent history has also seen an increase in anti-regulatory sentiment. Many states along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts have developed more lenient building codes - or have elected not to impose any at all.

These choices are risky. Many experts believe they could lead to increased devastation as well as steeper recovery costs in the event of a natural disaster.

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