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Lessons Learned: Hurricane Andrew Helped Prepare South Florida’s Industrial Market for Irma

Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday, Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday afternoon, tearing through The Keys and heading up the western portion of the state through the Tampa area. For a time, it appeared the hurricane was heading straight for Miami before it ultimately changed course.

“A few days ago when we are all staring down the barrel of a Category 4 storm that was heading straight for us, it was concerning,” says Ken Krasnow, executive managing director of Colliers International’s South Florida division. “We ended up having some Category 2 force winds, but we feel fortunate that the storm changed course.”

Despite being out of Irma’s direct path, parts of Miami were flooded and most of the region experienced power outages, with many residences remaining without power as of this writing.

Irma was the worst storm to hit South Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but the destruction caused by the storm 25 years ago was much worse, specifically for the industrial sector.

“Hurricane Andrew was the worst this market experienced,” says Walter Byrd, senior managing director of Transwestern’s industrial team. “It blew through entire floors on projects in the southern part of Miami-Dade County.”

Byrd says that the difference this go-around was decades of new construction and redevelopments that adhered to South Florida’s building code, which requires windows and doors to withstand hurricane-force winds.

For perspective on how well the South Florida industrial market stood up to the hurricane, Krasnow says that of the 150 industrial properties that his firm manages in the region, only one small flex property sustained any damage.

“Out of a portfolio that size, that’s great,” says Krasnow. “It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy like Hurricane Andrew to change the way buildings are constructed or renovated, but history tells us that it usually takes some kind of event to get people to change their behaviors.”

Industrial owners in the region, including DCT Industrial Trust and EastGroup Properties, say that their assets didn’t sustain any significant damages due to Irma. Byrd says that Transwestern’s industrial assets also withstood the worst of the storm, which was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane on Sunday and then a tropical storm on Monday morning. (Tropical storm winds range from 39 to 73 miles per hour, while hurricane winds all exceed 73 miles per hour.)

“Our properties fared well, with primarily landscaping cleanup. We have not seen any significant structural damage,” says Byrd. “The surge resulted in some subterranean parking garages in Coconut Grove to flood, but they are expected to be dry by the weekend.”

Media reports vary on the number of Floridians left without power during the storm (estimates range from 6 million to 12 million). But in South Florida, Byrd reports that most industrial parks were able to leave the lights on as the power lines running to newer industrial parks run underground.

“They are less susceptible to power outages, especially compared to residential communities,” says Byrd. “Most of the business areas are up and operational.”

The performance of the industrial market in the face of the storm was impressive and proved that prudence when developing is vital to withstand storms of this magnitude. Organizations like the American Institute of Architects are urging lawmakers to not relax any of the building standards in place because natural disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are inevitable. Krasnow says that the only thing developers can do is prepare for the worst, which ultimately saved millions of dollars in property damages for South Florida’s industrial market during Irma.

“These events aren’t going away, but if you’re prepared you can deal with it and minimize the damage,” says Krasnow. “Developers aren’t always happy to build to the new standards because it’s expensive and the permitting process can be problematic, but a lot of us were comforted that this market has really fortified itself. We can really withstand some of the more severe weather conditions out there.”

— John Nelson

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