Former FEMA director: Florida shortsighted when it comes to hurricane threat

Craig Fugate speaks to Economic Club of Florida

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida leaders need to be thinking more long term when it comes to hurricanes.

That was the message from Craig Fugate, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The emergency management guru laid out recommendations for how the Florida Legislature could help mitigate the costs of future storms.

For Florida alone, damage from Hurricane Irma has cost the federal government more than $8 billion in disaster relief. 

While speaking to the Economic Club of Florida on Tuesday, Fugate said part of the reason that costs of storms have been on the rise is because local governments are shying away from insurance and instead are relying more on Federal aid to cover costs of rebuilding. 

“I like to refer to this as ‘disaster socialism,'” Fugate said. "What would Florida look like today if you didn't have federal government bailouts? Would we have made the same decisions and built the same way?"

He also criticized a 2017 decision to rollback building code reviews in the state.

Previously, the state would adopt all new standards every three years. Now, it can pick and choose which updates to adopt.

“It won't affect us this year or next year, but how many years before we start seeing the code get eroded,” Fugate said.

Fugate said one way to lower costs is to discourage further development in at-risk areas like flood zones and coastlines by no longer subsidizing flood insurance for new construction.

“Theoretically, if you're building it new, and you're building it to code, it should be more insurable, not something that the taxpayers should have to underwrite,” Fugate said.

One month into hurricane season, the state hasn’t seen a single named storm, but Fugate said it doesn’t matter. 

Hurricane Andrew, one of the costliest storms to ever hit the state, was the first named storm of the 1991 season. It didn’t come ashore until late August.

“The most active part of hurricane season starts when we start playing college football,” Fugate added.

Kickoff is less than two months away.

Fugate said all Floridians should review their insurance policies in preparation for hurricane season to understand where they might lack coverage. 

He also recommended all Floridians acquire flood insurance, even if they don’t live in a designated flood zone.

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