As Floridians from across parts of the state continue to recover from Hurricane Ian, Florida’s policy leaders face many challenging issues as they try to prepare the state for major storms in the coming years. As we saw after Ian, Floridians bonded together to help their neighbors, especially those that live in the southwest part of the state. Floridians are used to major storms, and they are used to coming to the aid of their impacted fellow Floridians. It is always inspiring and reassuring to see how strangers step up and help those in need in the devastated neighborhoods after a storm.
Now it is time for our state leaders to come together and take a hard look at what can be done to better prepare the state for major storms, and possibly lessen the intense damage that often occurs during hurricanes. After the storm passes, in the months that follow, talk of rebuilding takes center stage. But as we consider long-term plans to rebuild after major hurricanes, shouldn’t we pause for a moment, and think of the lessons learned from these storms? Why would we build in the same place and in the same way we have in the past, just to have the same level of intense damage occur again when the next hurricane hits?
We should think about not only where we rebuild, but how we rebuild.
Our state and local governments can lead the way with smart policy discussions and actions that will lead to a smarter and stronger rebuilding process post-Ian and after future storms. There is a clear need to focus on resiliency efforts especially in our coastal communities with more intense and focused planning.
We should evaluate where the worst flooding has happened in a storm like Ian and make future plans to rebuild with that in mind. With increased sea level rise, the coastal flooding issue is only going to become a bigger problem, and we will likely see more and more flooding caused from storms much less intense than Ian.
Leaders need to prioritize stronger building codes in our most vulnerable areas. They need to make sure new infrastructure is appropriately constructed and can withstand strong winds from these storms. Concepts like “Building Code Plus” that would incentivize taking small steps to increase resiliency should be considered when new building and rebuilding in areas that are most vulnerable to hurricane impacts.
Florida leaders convening in Tallahassee this week and leaders at the local level both need to reexamine all these issues as they relate to how we prepare for hurricanes. We should prepare better for how we build and where we build and continue to take the lessons learned and turn them into reforms that will limit the pain and destruction in future hurricane seasons.
Our leaders come together to assist those in need after a storm. Now is the time for them to come together once again, before the next storm, and provide reform and solutions that will benefit all Floridians.
Vivian Young is the Communications Director for 1000 Friends of Florida and a member of the Stronger Safer Florida Coalition