Two weeks after Miami-Dade County commemorated the 25-year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the largest natural disaster in U.S. history up to that point, Hurricane Irma threatened Florida, including our community.
Although the eye of the hurricane went over the Florida Keys and Florida’s west coast, Miami experienced significant hurricane-force winds impacting homes, businesses, vegetation, and infrastructure.
Fortunately, most property and buildings escaped with little or no structural damage. The impact could have been much worse, were it not for the lessons learned and actions taken to fortify buildings and properties after Hurricane Andrew and subsequent storms.
Miami-Dade has one of the strictest building codes in the United States. Buildings are constructed to withstand Category 5 hurricane force winds. Local companies have hurricane preparedness and recovery plans that allow the businesses to be ready and to prepare its employees. The power grid has been strengthened, resulting in shorter power outages (up to one week after Hurricane Irma compared to two weeks after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and longer for Andrew). Supermarkets and gas stations now have generators so that they can be open shortly after a storm passes.
Since Andrew, Miami-Dade has become a national model for dealing with hurricane preparation, building protection and business recovery.
Today, Miami is broadening its expertise to resiliency, which includes the issue du jour: sea-level rise. Miami-Dade County is pro-actively dealing with all weather-related stresses and shocks to our community which include higher and more frequent King Tide.
The goal is to build on the successes of hurricane hardening to become a global center for resiliency solutions. The community is well on its way.
Miami-Dade, in collaboration with the city of Miami and the city of Miami Beach, is one of the 100 Resilient Cities of the Rockefeller Foundation. The group helps develop strategies to create a community that can handle the changes in the environment in years to come.
Miami-Dade County was also the first county in the U.S. to appoint a Chief Resiliency Officer. In addition, all planning and budgeting in county government is done through the lens of resiliency. But local government is not the only segment in the community actively looking at these issues and finding solutions. Academic institutions are actively engaged in developing solutions.
Florida International University’s Wall of Wind facility is researching and developing new methods and technologies for strengthening building materials, including a patent pending for a new type of roofing material.
At the University of Miami, researchers have developed a method to manufacture concrete using seawater, which is abundantly available, and using glass rebar to better protect against corrosion, thus extending the life of critical infrastructure materials.
The business community also is playing an active role in making Miami a resilient community. Chambers of Commerce and economic development organizations such as the Miami-Dade Beacon Council are looking at how the private sector can develop solutions and new technologies. This includes the commercialization of research done at the local universities and taking advantage of Miami’s #1 ranked entrepreneurial ecosystem to grow these tech companies.
This provides for business opportunities like those the Netherlands has provided over the last several hundred years, but especially after a major storm in 1953, in which over 1,800 people died. That country is known for its water management expertise and business foresight. Miami-Dade can become a world-leader in resiliency.
The quick recovery after Hurricane Irma is just the latest example of lessons learned over the last 25 years after Hurricane Andrew made our community a poster-child for natural disasters.
From here on out, Miami-Dade will be the example of how fast a community can return to normal after a major weather event with the correct infrastructure, preparedness and technology.
Michael Finney is the President & CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council.