Building code helped shield SWFL during Irma, but changes coming

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney

FORT MYERS, Fla. Signs of Hurricane Irma linger in the form of debris piles, mangled signs and older homes deemed unlivable.

But it’s a stark contrast to some of the devastation seen along the Texas coast after Hurricane Harvey.

There, entire buildings collapsed, roofs were completely blown off and even the side of a new hotel was ripped down in Rockport, near Corpus Christi.

A local sheriff described it as being hit with the big one.

A Lee County building industry association executive spoke about Irma’s impact in Southwest Florida in much different terms. He described it as a testament to the strength of Florida’s building code.

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A law passed in June changed the way Florida’s building commission will update building standards for the first time since the 1990s.

In the past, the commission automatically adopted the International Code Council standards every three years and then spent time changing anything that did not pertain to Florida.

Now, the commission will instead pick and choose which standards it wants to adopt.

“We’re dealing with semantics; it’s not going to do anything to weaken the code,” said Phillip Ford, executive vice president for the Lee County Building Industry Association.

The bill passed the legislature with few nays. State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she felt it streamlined an otherwise cumbersome process.

But a nonprofit consumer advocate group fears the change will impact property and insurance rates.

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The Federal Alliance for Safe homes, or FLASH, is concerned that the building commission will not automatically adopt safety upgrades that help lead to low costs for insurance.

The concerns were echoed by Craig Fugate, a former FEMA director and former head of Florida emergency management.

He spoke about what was then a proposed law at the National Hurricane Conference in April.

Being proactive is the key for anyone building a home in Florida in the next three to five years, a FLASH official said.

“If nothing else, as a good consumer — make your contractor aware that you know some changes have been made — and you want to make sure you’re going to get the best house you can get,” said Mike Rimoldi, FLASH’s senior vice president of educational and technical programs.

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