Friday, December 15, 2017
Editorials

Andrew’s unfinished business

Few events changed the psyche and economy of modern Florida more than Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida 20 years ago today. The Category 5 storm killed 15 people in Miami-Dade, left 150,000 homeless and brought some of the best and the worst reforms, from stronger building codes to an insurance model that puts taxpayers on the hook for catastrophic losses. This anniversary is a time to reflect on what the state's done right — and what still needs work.

Until Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Andrew was the costliest natural disaster in American history. The storm flattened entire neighborhoods south of Miami, causing some $25 billion in damage. The destruction led to a vast array of improvements: stronger building codes, sharper forecasting, earlier public warnings and better emergency management procedures. But Florida remains vulnerable as more residents move to the coasts and build bigger homes, as the public becomes lax about evacuations and as homeowners assume greater financial risk as a way to afford spiking insurance premiums.

The stronger building codes have helped spare property and lives over the past two decades. Stronger roofs and windows, reinforced concrete and more routine and vigilant inspections by county building officials have enabled newer properties to withstand heavier wind loads. Technological advances have made for more accurate track predictions, giving those in the shifting danger zone more time to prepare or evacuate. State and local officials have also improved disaster management plans, and their focus on evacuating people earlier has lessened the danger from inland flooding, the biggest killer from hurricanes in the last 30 years.

Florida remains at risk, though, thanks to its geography, growth and the political failure to come to terms with the insurance crisis that leaves coverage from private insurers neither affordable nor available in too many areas. After Andrew, insurers pulled back, adopting new risk models that raised rates even while shifting costs and risks onto consumers and taxpayers. Millions of new residents have moved toward the coasts; if Andrew hit the same area today losses would be more than double, topping $50 billion. Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer of last resort, now covers 1.4 million policyholders, 20 percent of the market, with disproportionate responsibility for coastal areas. And the government's capacity to act is stretched, too, as federal budget cuts threaten the rollout of new forecasting technologies and as public complacency takes root after six hurricane-free years in Florida.

That lucky streak is at risk now. The prospect that Tropical Storm Isaac will strengthen into a hurricane today before moving on a path that could take it into Florida should be a wake-up call for residents and policymakers alike. The quiet storm seasons of the past have enabled Florida to sidestep a serious debate on how to limit its vulnerability and to make property insurance more fair, certain and affordable. That is a legacy of Andrew that haunts homeowners to this day, and it should not take another 20 years to confront it.

Comments
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Updated: 12 hours ago

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Florida’s juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was defensive and obtuse. So it’s welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17