Storms highlighted serious local issues, CEOs say

This week’s question to the Miami Herald CEO Roundtable: In light of recent hurricanes, what concerns should the community spotlight in the coming months?

Better coordination and resource planning between the local, regional, state and federal agencies to begin the cleanup and restoration process faster. This is not only critical for our economy but also for our community to feel that daily life is returning to normal.

Ron Antevy, president and CEO, e-Builder

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Senseless development. South Florida is built on drained wetlands and filled swamps. Endless construction and climate change equals serious trouble ahead for South Florida and its real estate market. It may not be too late to develop a systematic approach for climate damage, but it’s getting close.

Maria Arizmendi, behavior analyst and president, Progressive Behavioral Science

I believe with all of my heart that our community should focus on protecting the most vulnerable in times of preparation and the aftermath of a natural disaster. They should be a priority when it comes to restoring power and other services. The incident in the Hollywood nursing home, where [14] residents died as a result of not having power and air conditioning for several days after the hurricane, should have no place in our communities. This was a preventable tragedy and should never happen again.

Noah Breakstone, founder and managing partner, BTI Partners

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Although, fortunately, Hurricane Irma spared South Florida from tremendous damage to buildings, there likely will be some increased demand on county and local governments for permits to repair the damage that was caused. In general, the permitting process in South Florida is very time consuming. In the event of a natural disaster that caused significant damage to South Florida buildings, permitting of reconstruction would become a nightmare, as it did following Hurricane Andrew. As things stand now, developers are complaining that the time it takes to secure a permit is disruptive to their businesses and is costly to them, and that it causes a drag on the economy by delaying the employment of workers and other resources. Some thought should be given to arrangements for expediting the permitting process now, before another natural disaster creates a huge backlog of permitting applications and delays urgent reconstruction and recovery. Increased building department permitting staff, paid for by permitting applicants, and/or privatization of some aspects of the permitting process would seem to be feasible solutions.

Although Irma does not appear to have done substantial damage to South Florida buildings, it did create havoc with landscaping. Blocked roads and downed power lines were among the most significant problems caused by Irma. County and local governments need to devote more resources to keeping trees on city and county right-of-ways pruned. Trees on private property are equally problematic in causing downed power lines. City and county governments should strengthen codes regarding private property tree maintenance to protect power lines and/or do better at enforcing existing property maintenance codes designed to protect power lines.

Bowman Brown, partner and chairman of the Executive Committee and the Financial Services Practice Group of Shutts & Bowen

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The treatment of our elderly in nursing homes! It is unacceptable that our senior citizens are not protected during a hurricane. This is especially true if they are living in a nursing home. The county should inspect, at random, local nursing homes before hurricane season to make sure that they have the proper policies and procedures in place on how they will take care of their patients in case of electricity shortage.

Patricia Elizee, managing partner, Elizee Law Firm

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The storm highlighted how dangerous rising sea levels can be. Clearly, we need to do all we can to minimize climate change. But since we won’t be able to eliminate it entirely, it’s important that we pick up some serious speed on investing in ways to mitigate its impact on our community.

Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

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There are many lessons that need to be fully evaluated. How do we strengthen the infrastructure of our community? How do we better serve the members of our population that can’t care for themselves? How do we better plan for population growth and development? How do we deal with flooding and rising sea levels?

Jeffrey Freimark, president and CEO, Miami Jewish Health

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Hurricane Irma really drove home how internet-dependent we all are, as well as the importance of maintaining backup methods to ensure the continuation of other fundamental utilities, like power and cellular service. Our focus should be on that, as well as determining how to prevent long-term damage to utility infrastructure in the first place, especially for agencies and organizations that serve the community. In the aftermath of an emergency like Irma, children and families need our services more than ever. Our ability to respond to their needs depends on that infrastructure.

James Haj, president and CEO, The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County

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High on the list of priorities should be an evacuation plan that effectively coordinates county road, state highway and public transportation systems and fuel providers to ensure a mass evacuation of Miami-Dade County could take place in case of an emergency, whether from a natural or man-made disaster. Second, as long as we live in a community without buried power lines, the trimming of vegetation around utility wires must be enforced. Beautiful trees and plants have flourished in the 12 years since Wilma, and while we enjoy them, we must be responsible caretakers and considerate of our fellow residents.

Bob Hohenstein, president and CEO, Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and Exposition

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Energy independence is crucial. We need to focus on improvements in decentralized power, while spotlighting the benefits and cost-effectiveness of integrating solar and battery power.

David Martin, president and co-founder, Terra

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Given that we are a densely populated coastal city with lush tree canopies in many areas, we are especially vulnerable to wind damage and power outages. We need to begin the labor intensive process of burying our power lines. There is going to be an immediate and significant improvement in the resiliency of those particular lines. In providing this service, we should be able to mitigate property damage and provide a safer working environment for first responders and utility companies. Additionally, businesses should be able to bounce back faster. Quality of life, life safety, and property values would also be enhanced. One caveat: Some areas in the 100-year FEMA Floodplain may not be eligible for underground utilities due to the risk of saltwater intrusion.

Aabad Melwani, president, Rickenbacker Marina, and managing principal, Marina PARC

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There are certainly lessons to be learned from a scientific perspective regarding global warming, beach erosion, and more. In fact, Broward College hosted a chat on sea level rise and climate change with the two Climate Resilience Officers for Broward and Miami-Dade counties on Oct. 12. While it is important to ensure the youth of South Florida are informed, we may need to do a debriefing session as a community to determine areas for improvement, including working with our county and the multiple municipalities in which our campuses reside.

Avis Proctor, vice president of academic affairs and president, North Campus at Broward College

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Our community and many others across the country are facing an affordable housing crisis. Now, with thousands displaced from their homes and apartments due to recent hurricanes, the affordable housing crisis has only grown more acute. It is essential that our elected officials recognize that the private sector cannot solve this crisis alone. We need significantly more resources to solve the affordable housing crisis and we need them immediately. This is a bipartisan issue and cities, states and the federal government must work together with the private sector to solve the crisis. Now is the time for action.

Matthew Rieger, president and CEO, Housing Trust Group

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