Twenty-five years ago today, Hurricane Andrew slammed into the South Florida coast with 140-mph winds, killing 44 people and causing $24 billion in damage. While the storm was one of the costliest disasters in U.S. history, it also sparked a revolution in building codes for coastal regions in the U.S., led to major modifications in how doors and windows are manufactured, and forced businesses to take emergency planning much more seriously.

On the anniversary of the storm, DWM looks back at a destructive hurricane that left a lot of changes in its wake.

Today, those developments directly affect a lot of lives and property. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of coastal counties increased 84 percent from 1960 to 2008. And AIR Worldwide, which provides catastrophe risk modeling software and consulting services, estimates that the total value of insurable property along the U.S. coast that could be affected by storm surge is $17 trillion.

Impact Products

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Andrew destroyed 25,524 homes in South Florida and damaged 101,241 others. Many structures had their roofs blown completely off, an effect directly linked to doors or windows that were damaged after being struck by wind-blown debris.

A broken door or window on the wall facing hurricane-force winds greatly increases the risk of this happening because it causes a dramatic change in pressure inside the home, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Because of that, construction researchers determined that it’s important to prevent windows from shattering and doors from flying open, leading to advances in glass and hardware manufacturing.

In the aftermath of Andrew, South Florida Building Code (SFBC) officials adopted the first mandatory glazing impact standards in the United States, according to a 2003 report from DWM.  They were based on Australian standards that were developed after a devastating cyclone hit that country in 1974.

Today, impact-resistant windows are manufactured by dozens of companies and are sold from Texas to Maine, but the top market remains Florida. According to the American Architectural Manufacturers Association’s  2015/2016 Study of the U.S. Market for Windows, Doors and Skylights, that state represents 68 percent of the total U.S. market for residential impact windows.

Building Codes

In 2002, Florida adopted the Florida Building Code, which mandated that newly built buildings must be able to withstand hurricane-force winds and have shutters or impact-resistant glass to protect openings.

Within a few years, all coastal states had adopted some form of hurricane wind load codes.

In 2015, a modification to the Florida Building Code took effect that was poised to have a major effect on door and window manufacturers and dealers doing business in Florida.

“Every opening in Florida has to meet the hurricane code,” said Jim Bell, the windstorm coordinator for ASSA ABLOY, during a webinar for the Door and Hardware Institute. “Even if you build a dog house, it has to meet the hurricane code.”

As reported in the June-July 2015 issue of DWM, the changes aimed to put energy efficiency and impact resistance on equal footing. Manufacturers of aluminum windows, which are still popular in South Florida, said that put them at a disadvantage compared with vinyl window makers.

However, a more recent change could be even more controversial.

In July of this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that Florida home builders say streamlines future changes to the code — and critics say could weaken it.

Florida’s building codes will remain on a three-year update schedule by the Florida Building Commission, but that body won’t automatically adopt all of the newest standards from the International Code Council (ICC). Instead, Florida will maintain the Florida Building Code in its latest form and choose which updates from the ICC it wants to add.

Craig Fugate, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, recently told USA Today that the change “sickened” him, suggesting that the state’s home builders helped pass the law so they wouldn’t have to meet increasingly stringent standards. (Builders are heavily represented on the Florida Building Commission.)

“I don’t think builders are inherently evil people, but you’ve got to look at what their business model is,” Fugate told the newspaper. “The quicker they get to sell a home with the least amount of cost and the least time delays increases the money they make.”

In response, the state’s home builders said that’s an over-reaction. No codes will be changed by the legislation. Instead, the process for adopting updates will be streamlined. Standards won’t go down at all, but they also won’t increase at a pace that could prove too costly for builders and, ultimately, home buyers.

“That’s absolutely false and misleading,” said Jeremy Stewart, a Crestview, Fla., developer and president of the Florida Home Builders Association, in response to Fugate’s charges. “There’s not a single contractor that I know of in the state of Florida that does not want to be operating under the most stringent code, that’s not concerned with the well-being of our customers.”

Business Continuity

Beyond the widespread destruction of homes and commercial structures, Hurricane Andrew also vividly demonstrated how vulnerable businesses can be to natural catastrophes.

According to the Insurance Institute for Building and Home Safety (IBHS), one in four businesses that close for at least 24 hours after a disaster never reopen. In the aftermath of Andrew, 3,300 miles of power lines, 3,000 water mains and 9,500 traffic signs and signals were destroyed. That left about 1.4 million people without electricity – many for months – and forced many undamaged businesses to close.

IBHS says it’s vital for businesses to plan ahead for disasters. For example, they urge companies to have generators on hand to keep the power on.

The organization also recommends setting up a plan to keep employees informed about the status of the business. After Andrew, more than 150,000 homes and businesses lost phone service for weeks. In an era before everyone had a cellphone in their pocket, that made communications for many South Florida businesses difficult, if not impossible.

“After the storm, use multiple communications channels such as phone trees, social media and intranet site postings to let employees know where and when to report to work, where employees should direct questions, and when and where more details about the disaster will be available,” a recent IBHS report reads. “Also, provide capability for employees to update their status, availability and needs. Once the facility has completed its recovery period, implement a feedback process for all employees to provide input and experiences to improve planning for future events.”

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