Tim Rivers, Senior Managing Director of Asset Services in Florida, reflects on the resiliency of commercial buildings during Hurricane Irma.
How well did commercial and institutional buildings fare when they were hit by Irma?
Overall, commercial and institutional buildings fared well due in large part to the improvements made to the building codes after Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami in 1992. Further changes to Florida Building Code were also implemented after Hurricane Charlie. These codes require all newly constructed buildings be built to perform under extreme high-pressure conditions that occur during hurricanes, from the window systems/units to the rooftop equipment. Because of the quality of their construction, most institutional and high-rise buildings were not devastated by Hurricane Irma. Most buildings built in the last 15 to 20 years are designed to higher wind load requirements, as much as 120 mph.
Ultimately, buildings that were located within the most powerful wind bands of the storm were strongly affected. The northeast side of a hurricane is the strongest when it rotates, and Naples and Miami were two areas where buildings sustained some damage due to a combination of relentless wind and rain.
What problems occurred?
Areas such as Miami, which endured both intense wind and rain, experienced some structural damage to buildings, such as window outages and water intrusion. Some buildings could not handle the 150 mph gusts of wind.
Jacksonville suffered from flooding when the St. John’s River crested and flooded downtown and its surrounding areas. As a result, some assets were closed for more than a month.
Another challenge in the aftermath of the storm was replacing property landscaping. Almost all properties suffered some degree of landscape damage, and the storm destroyed the supply in many of the nurseries throughout the state. There was an enormous cleanup effort to remove the debris after the storm passed, some of which took 45 days to fully complete.
Do you know if any further changes to Florida Building Code are contemplated in the wake of Irma?
The Florida Building Code was upgraded at the end of last year. However, there were no significant structural changes made, for example, to the section on wind design. It is unlikely that there will be any further changes for the next few years.
Many emergency management officials also were dealing with other disasters when Irma hit. How did that impact response time, if at all? And, what lessons does this hold for a future in which a larger number of catastrophic hurricanes is expected?
Because of our diligent disaster response planning, we had a plan in place with our disaster response partners. Although many human and man-made resources had been allocated to Hurricane Harvey, our planning and strong relationships with our service partners gave us phenomenal resources and the ability to restore our managed properties quickly to working order.
We as a team took away many lessons learned in our follow-up calls and meetings. Hurricane Irma was in many ways unpredictable as the storm’s course continued to change just days before making landfall and sweeping through the entire state. Its magnitude serves as a constant reminder for us to prepare our teams and managed properties for the worst-case scenario to ensure we again effectively and efficiently respond to protect clients’ assets.