One of the most destructive forces resulting from hurricanes is wind. The force of hurricane-strength winds, ranging from 80 mph Category One storms to more than 157 mph for Category 5 storms, can destroy buildings, topple trees, bring down powerlines, and blow vehicles off roads, as well as increasing storm surge flooding from sideway rain. In 1992, after devastation from Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane considered one of the most destructive in the history of the United States, building codes were heavily overhauled. One of the first standards Florida adopted was the wind provisions from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE-7), which encompasses the national standard for wind requirements. Two years after Hurricane Andrew, the South Florida Building Code was published, improving roofing standards, building materials, and reinforcing wind resistance in structures. As a result, Florida now ranks as the top state in the nation for its building codes. These strict building codes resulted in thwarting or minimizing damage to newer buildings during Hurricane Irma, with many banks seeing less damage to their portfolio. Nevertheless, there are still a high proportion of vulnerable buildings lacking wind-resilient details, and even those buildings fully up to code are not impervious to damage in a serious storm.
Irma’s storm surge resulted in a lot of wind damage to properties in the worst of its path. Flooding from the storm led to a lot of water intrusion and small leaks. Many of these have caused delayed structural damage during subsequent rain storms, especially to roofing systems that were not fully in place, secondary damage to building systems, structural weakening of exterior building envelopes, and mold and mildew sensitivities. Even small water intrusion or minor cracks from wind damage can cascade through a property, top to bottom, causing bigger issues over time.
Many Irma recovery projects have been delayed by labor leaving due to the hurricane, along with persistent industry-wide labor shortages that have been impacting construction fields. Labor and building permits have been delayed, with a 5-6-month review and approval timeline. Cost increases for labor and materials have also risen sharply, with most warehouses only stocked for 60 days of supply across the country.
As Floridians navigate the heart of hurricane season and look towards preparedness for future storms, these are the factors property owners should be concerned about, particularly for older buildings built prior to 1992.
For businesses, property owners, investors and other CRE stakeholders, hurricane preparedness should be a year-round priority and one that takes place every year, regardless of the strength of the hurricane season. In many cases, proactive preparation can either stave off or lessen the degree of damage incurred in a natural disaster. Have a plan in place in the form of a due diligence and preparedness checklist. Prepare a list of contractors you trust (or that come highly recommended) ahead of time. Reach out to them, form relationships, and try to perform improvement projects ahead of time. One of the biggest hurdles for property owners after Hurricane Irma was the inability to find a contractor to perform work due to the considerations discussed above. If there is something you aren’t sure of with regards to structural integrity or major issues, it’s best to take care of it before a natural disaster exacerbates the problems even more. Invest in a careful building inspection or building assessment and fix any maintenance issues so that the building can stand up to damage from severe weather.
Industrial and retail owners may consider a roof inspection to look for broken seals, bubbles, or cracks that may lead to water intrusion issues – storm damage will make any of these issues way worse. Building systems such as MEP and IT should have a detailed operations and management plan, while businesses handling hazardous liquids or materials should have a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures Plan. Consider a contingency plan for maintaining accessibility and operation of brick-and-mortar systems infrastructure. Address IT security and cyber vulnerability, which peaks after disaster events, with a cybersecurity disaster plan and training.
If your property is impacted by water or wind damage due to a hurricane, start by following some basic disaster recovery steps. Ensure that the property is completely free of water, especially by waiting for any flooding water to recede and then drying the property. Have a certified consultant perform a careful assessment for mold and mildew as part of a post-damage report. Especially for older buildings built prior to 1982, another big concern is asbestos-containing materials (though asbestos can be found in any building, especially in roofing and tile materials). Before a demolition crew can go into a damaged building, perform an asbestos assessment and a comprehensive industrial hygiene survey for any other hazardous materials on site. Envelope structure from wind can impact roofs, exterior facades, and windows, sometimes shifting the roofing system itself. A post-hurricane Property Condition Assessment can help you distinguish between cosmetic damage versus structural issues.
Hurricane Irma’s erratic path was a perfect example of the unpredictability of hurricanes, both in terms of their pattern, force, destruction capabilities, and the damage that will incur as a result.