MIT’s Jeremy Gregory: Building Codes That Reflect Weather Hazards Can Keep Communities Safe

By: Jeremy Gregory, Executive Director, Concrete Sustainability Hub; Research Scientist, MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering

Hurricanes and high winds will always be a risk to coastal areas like Florida and Georgia, and Hurricane Michael was a devastating example of this unfortunate reality. Though the Atlantic coast of Florida has historically strong building codes to mitigate weather damage, the Panhandle area’s building codes are significantly less robust. As the Panhandle was hit with its first major storm in recent history, the building codes were a major reason why so few homes were left standing in the area.

In a striking image, one lone house stands in Mexico Beach, Florida — a home built for resilience. The building endured powerful winds and heavy rain in the most severe hurricane to hit Florida’s Panhandle, but the home’s strong and durable construction kept it safe from weather damage. The home is a testament to hurricane preparedness and resilient building construction, and elected officials should take note. We need a long-term, durable and sustainable approach to building to adapt to a changing environment.

In rebuilding these communities and developing new ones, it is critical to think about the future and mitigate weather risks with durable building. As natural hazards increase in frequency and severity, it’s imperative to look at the total life cycle costs of a structure — not just initial expenses, but costs related to hazards as well. In previous case studies, we’ve shown that an investment in hazard-resistant construction can be extremely cost effective, particularly in areas where hurricanes and other natural disasters often have overwhelming economic impact. Building codes that reflect weather hazards can keep communities safe and lessen expensive repairs over time.