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Governor considers changing building codes in panhandle

The homes and businesses across much of Florida are built from a heartier stock than most of the rest of the country. It is not a secret that our state is one of the most prone to hurricanes. As a result, lawmakers have created stringent building codes to keep people safe and structures standing.

However, the strict standards buildings in south Florida are held to have not always extend to the northern part of the state. This became painfully evident as Hurricane Michael tore through the panhandle recently. The devastation left in its wake prompted Governor Rick Scott to consider changes that could be made to building codes.

The best construction in the nation, for some

In 2012, the Tampa-based Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety conducted an exhaustive evaluation of building codes and enforcement in the 18 states most prone to hurricanes. Florida and Virginia received the best scores, clocking in at 95 out of 100 points.

Unfortunately, since structures in the panhandle built before 2007 were not subject to the tighter building codes, they often did not receive safety considerations like shatterproof windows, fortified roofs or reinforced concrete pillars.

Before these codes were enforced, many argued that the region's forests would make an effective barrier to storms. As a result, builders often cut corners, doing things like using particleboard rather than plywood for roofs, or stapling materials in place rather than nail them.

While not against the law at the time, and certainly budget-friendly, this kind of corner cutting is a major reason for the amount of devastation left by Hurricane Michael.

Governor Scott addressed this issue in an intervieww, "After every event, you always go back and look what you can do better," Scott said. "After Andrew, the codes changed dramatically in our state. Every time something like this happens, you have to say to yourself, `Is there something we can do better?"'

Rebuilding with new laws?

No new legislation has been ratified yet, but stricter retrofitting of older model homes may be a solution. This would be cost and time intensive in an area still reeling from a major disaster, though. Some survivors of the storm are unsure of how effective such a step may be.

Bill Herrle, Mexico Beach resident and owner of a now destroyed home built in the 80s, said his home was destroyed no differently than new homes, "It wiped out both the older and newer homes. It looks like my entire street is razed."

Northern Florida residents will do their best to rebuild in the coming weeks and months. There is no telling what the legal landscape of the construction will take - hopefully it will be time, cost and safety conscious for all involved.

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