Florida Rebuilds Resiliently After Hurricane Irma


Nearly five years after Hurricane Irma swept through Florida, communities are becoming more resilient by restoring public facilities with the help of FEMA grants.

Crossing the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma’s winds reached 185 mph, making it one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record. On September 10, 2017, the eye of the hurricane made landfall in Cudjoe Key in Monroe County as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. It made landfall that afternoon on the southwest coast near Marco Island as a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph.

A major disaster declaration was issued the same day. Throughout the recovery process, the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), in partnership with FEMA, worked with communities to make public facilities more resilient.

In July, FEMA provided $2.45 billion for 7,943 reconstruction projects under its Public Assistance (PA) program, including $35 million for 299 projects that increased the resilience of public facilities.

The PA program reimburses eligible applicants for emergency response and recovery costs. As part of restoration, funds can be included to increase resilience and reduce future damage. FEMA reimburses at least 75% of the cost of each project, with the remainder coming from non-federal sources.

Across the state, rebuilding after Hurricane Irma is happening in both urban and rural communities.

Here are some highlights:

  • The Collier County Housing Authority increased the wind resistance of the Horizon Village complex while repairing the hurricane-damaged roof.
  • The South Florida Water Management District installed additional rockfill and geotechnical fabric along a Palm Beach County canal that was damaged by hurricane floodwaters.
  • The large, collapsed lodge at Riverside Park in Indian River County was rebuilt with pressure-treated beams resistant to exposure to salt water.
  • The Florida Keys Electric Cooperative in Monroe County, which suffered significant damage from hurricane winds and storm surges, installed concrete foundations for transmission line poles to stabilize structures and protect against erosion caused by storms.
  • Cathedral Parish School in St. John’s County installed flood barriers at six entrances to the school’s gymnasium and raised, watertight control boxes for a security barrier.

In addition to funding to rebuild facilities damaged by the storm, $565 million is available to the State of Florida through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for projects that could reduce damage caused by future events. FDEM evaluates proposals from communities statewide and prioritizes how the money can be spent. To date, $304 million for specific projects has been approved and other proposals are being processed.

“Florida has the strongest demonstration of how to increase safety and reduce the costs of future events by including mitigation in storm recovery efforts,” said Gracia B. Szczech, regional administrator for Region 4 of FEMA. “The State is committed to financing resilient projects. ”

Among the HMGP projects carried out:

  • In Collier County, the City of Naples installed seven diesel backup pumps and upgrades to sewage lift stations.
  • In Desoto County, the City of Arcadia improved wind protection at City Hall and the Police Department with the installation of concertina shutters and roller shutters for all exterior openings.
  • In Lake County, the City of Minneola installed a 400 kilowatt backup generator to keep the City Hall building operational in the event of an outage.
  • Marion County protected the utility department building, which serves as an emergency command post, by installing storm shutters and protecting vents, louvers and exhaust fans.
  • In Polk County, the City of Winter Haven has installed emergency generators at four lift stations to ensure operation in the event of a power outage.
  • The Sarasota County Public Hospital Board installed additional switchgear for an emergency generator, increasing capacity to supply 100% of emergency service power needs.
  • Seminole County installed two 500-kilowatt mobile emergency generators for use at two special needs shelters and the Seminole County Services Building.

After Hurricane Irma, FEMA and FDEM established a process to expedite the approval of public assistance grants. FDEM completes the examinations of eligibility, technical feasibility and profitability. To shorten review times, the FDEM also participates in the environmental review of projects.

“Through our strong partnership with FEMA, the Division was able to quickly and efficiently distribute funds to impacted communities as they continue their long-term recovery from Hurricane Irma,” said FDEM Director, Kevin Guthrie. “Hurricane Irma was the costliest hurricane to impact Florida to date, and funding critical reconstruction and mitigation projects is enabling our communities to become more resilient and lessen the impacts of future disasters.”

The federal response to Hurricane Irma in Florida included more than $1 billion in assistance to 774,691 individuals and households for temporary housing costs, basic home repairs and other disaster-related needs. The National Flood Insurance Program paid out $982.5 million to 28,751 policyholders. The US Small Business Administration has issued $1.43 billion in low-interest disaster loans to 37,083 businesses and homeowners.

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