A Caribbean hurricane protection matter

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

A Caribbean hurricane protection matter

by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

The risk of an explosion of hurricane damage claims may quickly bury insurance companies’ profits. It has led to something of an insurance exodus in Florida in the past couple of years. Homeowners in Florida are struggling with skyrocketing home insurance premiums. Several insurers operating in Florida have cut coverage in some of the areas that are most vulnerable to natural disasters or have withdrawn from the state entirely.

It is also high time in the Caribbean to think about what is or maybe happening to be or not to be protected by insurance or otherwise in the future. Returning to what may be considered ‘normal’ is not an option but rather a mediocratic restauration. Hurricane preparedness including having bottled water, batteries, getting any lose items out of the way, etc. is a minimal precaution. What about buildings and construction?

 Some buildings remain almost miraculously untouched after a weather disaster. Many others may lose their roofs, windows or doors. Residents, not knowing what to do or what may be next. And tremendous piles of sheet metal. sit in front of what once was their beloved home, and their damaged furniture and belongings is in the yard or on the street in front of them.

A serious advisory is needed that focusses on building hurricane resistant structures or reconstruct them to such.  It may sound like a building code, but it should not be a government regulation or requirement although it could be encouraged by a government. It should not take away or limit anyone’s rights. It is a stern advisory. Yet, it may have implications. And if not initiated or implanted by a government who will?  

An independent Caribbean Research and Development Institute for Architecture and Construction should be founded. The Institute should be supported by the Insurance and the Building Industries.  The activities of the institute should be carried out in cooperation with reputable international universities such as for instance the Technical University Delft – Netherlands, Technical University Zurich – Switzerland, MIT – USA. No political involvement; an absolutely independent and impartial organization. 

Why the insurance industry?  When it comes to big dollars and cents, whose profits suffered the most after the hurricanes? They should have a vested interest in any practical and realistic solution that reduces risks; after all, believe it or not, it is a risk adverse industry. Mind that if major insurance companies withdraw their coverage, as it is the case in Florida, then local insurance brokers have less to insure which may reduce their revenue.

Why the building/construction industry? They should be interested in developing materials and methods that resist any challenging situation.  Their financial support and investment should pay off well for them in return.

Why the international universities? That should not need much explanation. They are reputable, and insurance, building/construction industries will trust them. Any government may lack that kind of credibility. 

The institute should independently do its research and development to establish a building code for hurricane stealth and resisting construction. It may even have a wind tunnel available to test structure models in extreme high wind circumstances. In addition, the institute should be the preferred independent international organization that can certify whether design, construction or materials are appropriate. Therefore, it will have inspectors and adjusters. Again, no government or political involvement.

The insurance industry from its side might determine that that any new commercial building that is not hurricane certified can only be insured at higher premiums, get limited coverage, or in the worst case it may not be considered at all for insurance coverage. The building suppliers could proudly show the certificate or seal of approval on their products.  Investors in new projects may also applaud to see a certification.

The mission of the institute is not to police or regulate, but rather be an undertaking to prevent and protect buildings and its owners against hurricane damages of an extraordinary proportion that we have seen recently, and which actually may return at any time in the future. It is not the aim to take authority away from local governments. Although, it could become a matter of lead, follow, or get out of the way of the institution. The wisest option for all would be to cooperate with this new credible organization all the way and establishing and accepting a positive standard for all.

The institute will inform general audiences about how to protect their dwellings from hurricane impact. It can do so through publication of documentation, presentations on the media or at locally organized meetings. There are many benefits that come out of this solution. 

But there is more. The lucky island that will be selected as the location of choice, may now have landed an institute of higher learning that is internationally accredited, affiliated and respected. Which means new employment in the non-academic segments of the institution on location. It may mean conferences to be held on the island and an opportunity to develop unique science tourism.

For young people in the region, it may be an option to study in an alternative academic direction that they don’t have to go abroad for. Because it is Caribbean related, it may be an opportunity for them to find well paid employment in the region afterwards or even set up their own specialized business. Current and hurricane damage of the past has proven that it all makes sense.  Just food for thought. 

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