Column: Florida Wildlife Federation — Reform, mitigation would help fix windstorm insurance

Aug 21, 2011

The following article was published in the Miami Herald on August 21, 2011:

Reform, mitigation would help fix windstorm insurance

By Manley Fuller

We watched, we waited, and once again we were spared, this time.

Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Emily fortunately weakened while in the Caribbean, leaving our homes, businesses and wallets intact. As most South Floridians kept an eye on the “cone of uncertainty” wondering if and when the hurricane shutters would need to go up and last minute errands would need to be made to the grocery store, gas station and bank, I wondered how many residents were concerned that this may be the storm to leave Florida in a financial crisis?

With four months left this hurricane season, which is predicted to be an active one, it would behoove all Floridians to take advantage of this second chance and look into mitigating their homes against future storm damage. With citizens throughout the state in an uproar about rising property insurance rates, we should all realize that for every $1 spent on mitigation, $4 is saved, and that over time this will help reduce insurance premiums statewide. Mitigation provides this added benefit, because by strengthening our homes we can protect against the devastating effects of hurricanes, reduce the number of hurricane-related insurance claims that are filed, and lessen the state’s exposure to catastrophic damage.

This week, on the 19th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the wake-up call from Emily also serves as a reminder that we desperately need to reform Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to better protect all Floridians. The state-run insurer, which now is the largest carrier in Florida, has lost sight of its intended goal and today writes policies for more than just the small number of homes unable to acquire coverage through the private market. Today, multimillion dollar beach homes are included among the 1.3 million policies, and the risks are high for all Floridians.

Needed reforms to Citizens and the Cat Fund will end the requirement that all Floridians subsidize reckless coastal development in the most hazardous areas of the state. By removing Citizens coverage on structures in flood and storm-prone areas seaward of Florida’s coastal construction control line and within units of the Coastal Barrier System, we will reduce the risk of the public having to pay the claims of beachfront property owners.

From the beautiful homes along Golden Beach to the palatial mansions on Fisher and Star Islands, who knows how many of those residential properties are insured through Citizens? What we do know is that residents who can well afford their own private insurance are being insured by Citizens, and when a storm does make landfall on Florida’s coast, it will be all Floridians from Miami to Pensacola who will be required to pay the claims from storm damage.

Florida homeowners, renters, business owners, churches and even charities, such as Florida Wildlife Federation, will be on the hook for a decision our elected officials have yet to take full control of.

Recently, NOAA issued its updated 2011 Atlantic hurricane season outlook and raised the number of expected named storms from its May pre-season prediction. There is no time like the present to take the necessary steps to protect our homes, businesses, and beaches from whatever the future may hold.

There’s no time like the present for the Florida Legislature to reform Citizens Insurance and the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.

Manley Fuller is president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.