Ocean Hurricane Ian Damage in Florida

How Did Babcock Ranch Survive Hurricane Ian?

How did Babcock Ranch survive Hurricane Ian? As described below, a focus on climate resilient design played a central part of the community’s planning and development which made all the difference for residents (and insurers) in the end.

How Did Babcock Ranch Survive Hurricane Ian?

Hurricane Ian unleashed 150 MPH winds, massive flooding, 20 inches of rain on the Fort Myers area, doing billions of dollars of damage…

Hurricane Ian Damage
This aerial photo shows damaged homes and debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) AP via MassLive

However, Babcock Rancha massive residential community located only 12 miles from the southwestern coast where Ian made landfall, survived – almost without a scratch. 

The developer1 of the mixed-use project built with resilience in mind. Indeed, the difference resilience planning makes can be seen in the impact that Hurricane Ian had on the area near Fort Myers compared to Babcock Ranch.

Parts of Cape Coral and Fort Myers were completely destroyed, whereas even after being hit by the Category 4 storm for over 10 hours, Babcock Ranch survived with no structural damage, needing only minor cosmetic repairs.

How did Babcock Ranch survive Hurricane Ian? Three resilient building factors had a huge effect on the positive outcome for Babcock Ranch after the hurricane hit the area:

1) Higher Elevation

Kitson built the homes at 25 feet above sea level. 

The higher finished floor elevations and road elevations helped the community avoid the most severe flooding that wiped out homes at lower elevations where storm surges combined with high winds to cause massive destruction.

2) Enhanced Building Code Standards

Babcock Ranch is built to a higher level of construction than is required by standard, local Florida building code.

Whereas “building to code” means meeting the bare minimum to receive a certificate of occupancy, the Florida Green Building Coalition2, a green building non-profit developed a rating system inspired by Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) that requires homes to be designed with sustainability and resilience in mind.

Babcock Ranch followed sustainable land development standards and the FGBC homes rating system in all its buildings. The FGBC reference guide outlines the options. Like LEED, there are prerequisites3 and green building categories for certification.

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Lot Choice
  • Site
  • Health
  • Materials
  • Disaster Mitigation
  • General

Importantly, FGBC’s building standard also takes Florida’s unique climate risks and exposures into account. 

Homes are designed to be able to withstand a category 3 hurricane and up to 145 mile per hour winds.

Kitson also built with all utilities – such as electric and phone lines – being secured underground. 

3) On-Site Renewable Energy & Stormwater Design

A 150 megawatt solar farm with 700,000 solar panels covering 800 acres of land powers Babcock Ranch. 

The system operated and serviced by Florida Power & Light is large enough to provide 100% of the power needed for Babcock Ranch, sending a plurality of green energy back to its neighbors in the surrounding area.

None of the panels were damaged in Hurricane Ian, which is a testament to the resilient construction of the solar farm

A 150 megawatt solar farm with 700,000 solar panels covering 800 acres of land powers Babcock Ranch.

The higher elevation, combined with thoughtful stormwater management planning, protected the development from flooding and water infiltration that often comes alongside high winds.

Babcock Ranch design incorporates retention ponds and bioswales that provided buffers against excess water from the flooding, high winds and rain. 

A system of interconnected, stormwater-retention lakes and wetlands and other green infrastructure mitigated flooding with nearby flood plains, which saved the community from flooding.

Babcock Ranch utilizes indigenous native plants (aka “xeriscaping”) that thrive in the local Florida climate and can withstand rain and drought. The native plantings also require less irrigation while providing improved stormwater management and natural shade and cooling for residents.

Insurance Companies Encourage Climate Resilient Building

While the success of Babcock Ranch in surviving the hurricane is remarkable, according to RMS, total insured losses from Hurricane Ian are expected to be in the range of $53-74 billion.

The result will be constrained capacity by both insurers and reinsurers alike, and inevitably this drives up property, flood, wind and liability insurance premiums for Florida residents.

As Florida insurance carriers continue to leave the state or file for bankruptcy, climate resilience and resilient building standards are increasingly in focus.

For insurers still willing to write insurance for solar panels, flood, property, wind and other perils on the Florida coast, building for climate resilience will be critical if developers want to maintain reasonable insurance premiums for their customers.

Insurance companies like FM Global are rewarding policy holders who invest in climate resilience with insurance credits.

Babcock Ranch is proof that designing and building for resilience works to protect against the worst natural disasters and climate related risks, insurers are revisiting the importance of resilient building strategies in their underwriting. 

However, understanding your climate risk requires evaluating both inherent risks (those that are beyond your control) and actionable risks (those that are within your control) and working with your insurance broker to develop a plan .

Resiliency at Babcock Ranch benefited not only the homeowners, but also the insurance carriers providing the coverage.

Footnotes

  1. Syd Kitson, CEO of real estate development company Kitson & Partners, developed Babcock Ranch. Mr. Kitson is a former professional football player with the National Football League having played for the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys.
  2. FGBC has certified over 28,000 projects “Florida Green” since being founded... Unlike LEED and other standards, FGBC “Florida Green” takes a scientific approach developed with state-specific criteria. FGBC addresses Florida’s hot-humid environment, distinctive topography, unique geology, resiliency, and natural disasters.
  3. LEED requires meeting certain specifications for certification, while also offering a large number of optional "credits" that designers can choose from when designing for sustainability and resilience.
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