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Florida Professor says spending money can save money during hurricane season

Hurricane Irma in 2017. Image Credit: NOAA/CIRA
Hurricane Irma in 2017. Image Credit: NOAA/CIRA

The start of hurricane season is two days away, June 1, which means there’s not much time left to prepare.

Dr. Mike Gunter is a political science professor at Rollins College.

He said the amount people spend on hurricane prep varies depending on their most recent exposure to a natural disaster.

WMFE's Talia Blake caught up with him at his office to talk more about this and what you can do if you still need to prepare.

Listen to the full conversation at the player above.

Mike Gunter is a political science professor at Rollins College.
scott cook photography 561-252-3
Mike Gunter is a political science professor at Rollins College.

Talia Blake: How much are Floridians spending on hurricane prep nowadays?

Mike Gunter: That exact numbers is a little bit difficult to pin down. It seems to vary depending on recent exposure to natural disaster. In general, I think what we found is that there is spending in the few weeks before an anticipated hurricane, during the hurricane spending is down, and then afterwards there is a bounce back. But, there was a study that was done after Hurricane Matthew on the impacts in 2016, and they found overall, that during the two weeks before and then two weeks after, so over that one month, that four week period, spending actually went down.

Talia Blake: You said that it kind of depends on your exposure to a natural disaster. So would you say that people in, for example South Florida, who were hit a little bit harder with Hurricanes Ian and Nicole might be spending more for hurricane prep versus people more inland in Orlando, compared to like the coast, Daytona Beach? Depending on where you are, that depends on how much you're spending on hurricane prep?

Mike Gunter: That's the anticipation. Although, as you recall from last fall with Hurricane Ian, here in Central Florida, we had a lot of flooding damage. And so one of the things that's going on is, 'why is this happening?' Why are we seeing more hurricane damage (and) more flooding damage? Part of that is simply growth and exposure, as you mentioned, more that along the coast. When I came here in 2000, the state had 16 million people. We're over 22 million now. And since World War II, it's almost 10 times, not quite, but almost 10 times the number of population. So, we have more people, more growth, more development, more exposure. But the other factor that's going on, in the area that that is my area of research, is climate change. We can't say that any one specific event is because of climate change but, we can say that more intense storms will be more likely. What we have seen over the last several years is that we do have quite a few billion dollar natural disasters all across the US and, the biggest category of those are hurricanes, which we are more exposed to.

Talia Blake: With hurricane season now, basically starting within the next couple of days. I'm wondering what people can be doing now to prepare themselves for a storm that could be coming at any minute now?

Mike Gunter: That's a good question, and I think there's sort of five general piece of advice that the Flood Insurance Program offers. One of those is to be aware of where you lie in terms of a floodplain, not just the initial storm, but the rains that can continue sometimes for a day or two afterwards if the storm stuffs system stalls. You would also want to make sure that your insurance is up to date. You'd want to protect any kind of important documents in case you do need to file for damages afterwards with insurance. You would also probably want to take steps to be ready to pump out water or to have windows properly prepped and sealed. And there are funds available to assist with that through different government agencies. So ,I think it's about those types of steps. It's a little bit late now to start the rainy day fund. But, you're going to have some new expenses or anticipated expenses, whether it be temporary lodging, food, transportation, if you have to evacuate. So you will need access to some additional funds as well. But again, that exposes the disproportionate hits that we face in our communities, depending on abilities to socio economic status.

Talia Blake: Speaking of a rainy day fund, a lot of people were not anticipating having to spend so much in repairs after Hurricane Ian and Nicole. They weren't anticipating to have so much damage. On average, how much are people paying out of pocket for hurricane repairs in damage?

Mike Gunter: I saw some data that in terms of just minimal damages, historically $4,000 is a figure. In terms of more moderate damages, $10,000 is a figure. But again what we would label middle income folks, that's money that's probably not available to spend. So you're going into debt to do that.

Talia Blake: After two hurricanes last year impacting this area, do you think more people are paying attention and may be looking to better prepare this season?

Mike Gunter: I think you're gonna get some sort of two cohorts, they're bifurcated. Yes, some that have had that experience and realize that there are steps they can do to lessen the negative impact. And then there's probably some that are looking at this not having a full understanding of why we are at greater risk, and not a full understanding of how probability and statistics work. And thinking that, 'oh, well, this bad stuff happened last year. Surely it can't happen again this year.' And unfortunately, that's just not the case. It's every year, we're going to have more and more risk, because our population has gotten larger, we have developed more and taken away more of the permeable space for that water to go, and climate change. That risk is going to be, not necessarily that there's going to be more storms, but the storms that come are going to be more intense

Talia Blake: And with more intense storms means more money coming out of your pocket to do repairs. I want to talk about something that's been going on with the laws that have been passing. Truckers and other immigrant workers are expected to stage walkouts throughout the state on Thursday, June 1, to protest Florida's new immigration law. And we know that a lot of times when it comes to repairs and responses to hurricane, a lot of workers are coming from out of state to help with that. So how could that impact us when it comes to hurricane repairs and supplies if truckers and immigrant workers do decide to protest the state?

Mike Gunter: Well, certainly that's not good. But certainly, yeah, the world we live in today where things are supposed to arrive just in time and not have to worry about storage and the cost. We saw this during COVID, continual supply chain issues. I think it would take longer. It would depend on how intense the storm is, how long it sits on us, where it goes afterwards, and how it impacts our neighbors, because that would affect the ability of assistance to get our way as well. It also depends on how long that protests last. So there's a lot of variables there. Then at the national level with the the debt ceiling discussions, and so there's a lot of different variables at play here. But I return to the short answer to your question as I think it would. How bad is depends on what we do how we react.

Talia Blake: Earlier, you were saying that, one of the things that contribute to how much people prepare for a hurricane is what they experienced in the last hurricane season. So, are there any other factors that contribute into what makes someone decide to prepare how much they prepare for a hurricane?

Mike Gunter: First off, there's a degree of affordability. This is a question that's been driving climate change discussion for over three decades now, is can we afford to do this? Why should we spend this money now? Well, that is an important question to ask, but there's another important question that sometimes doesn't get asked, and that is, can we afford not to? If you don't do this, what does that mean in terms of future expenses? There's research out there that shows that every dollar spent on preparation actually prevents $6 and future expenses. So if we can properly mitigate in terms of the storms coming this year, that can actually save us money. So yes, it means spending money but, spending money can save money.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to Central Florida Public Media. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Psychology. While at UCF, she was an intern for Central Florida’s public affairs show, Intersection. She joined on as Morning Edition Host in 2019. In 2022, Ms. Blake was appointed to the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist’s board of directors.
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