Craig Fugate: Keep Florida communities safe, preserve Florida's strong building codes

Published March 28, 2017

Floridians remember Hurricane Andrew. They remember the loss of life, the destruction of homes and businesses, and they remember how long it took to rebuild.

While it was an incredibly difficult lesson to learn, Florida appropriately responded to this disaster by strengthening commercial and residential building codes across the state to make certain that, to the best of its ability, Florida prevented the type of devastation that was left in the path of Andrew in 1992.

Since then, Floridians have lived through many hurricanes and — as I witnessed as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's emergency management director, especially during the 2004 hurricane season — building codes were the difference between preservation or destruction and, sadly, survivability or loss of life.

In fact, I remember accompanying President George W. Bush and Gov. Jeb Bush on a tour of the state during 2004. The president asked the governor why one home was so badly damaged, while the one next to it, which was even more exposed, had minimal damage. The governor simply answered, "Building codes."

Right now, Florida remains a leader in the application of strong building codes and standards to protect families, businesses and visitors. But Florida must remain vigilant to ensure our communities are safe and resilient. Unfortunately, a set of bills, Senate Bill 7000 and House Bill 901, would significantly weaken the state's current building codes.

This regression would come at a steep and devastating cost — devastating to communities, families and businesses, as well as Florida's economic well-being. With weaker building codes, after a natural disaster more families will be displaced and businesses will be closed for longer periods of time, preventing people from getting back to work. Not to mention the real problem of insurability. The total cost of homeownership is greatly reduced when a strong, unified code, such as the current one, is in place. Diminishing or weakening the codes will only serve to increase the price of insurance on consumers.

Florida must continue to apply strong and current building codes for the environment we live in, which is the most likely state in the nation to be hit by a hurricane. Taking Florida back to pre-Hurricane Andrew status, when there was piecemeal regulation that didn't adequately protect homes, businesses or life, should not be an option.

As chairman of Floridians for Safe Communities, a broad-based coalition formed specifically to ensure Florida's communities remain safe and strong, I offer a strong warning to Florida lawmakers who support this legislation: You are putting your state and your citizens at risk.

Craig Fugate, who was FEMA administrator from 2009 until this January, is chairman of Floridians for Safe Communities.