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Don�t leave the house without checking here first. Is it going to rain this afternoon? How about tomorrow...or the next day? Latest local, national, and international forecasts, radar and satellite pics, and storm tracking! See if the slopes are sufficiently white, check the maritime forecast before casting off, or tilt the odds in your favor when planning that picnic. Don�t forget to review the international forecast BEFORE you leave for your vacation.

Emergency Sections are subsequent to the list of weather links. A True Anecdote concerning a �Rip Current� disaster is followed by a graphical demonstration of How to Avoid Being a Victim of Florida�s deadliest beach hazard. A full compliment of Rip Current Links follows. Hurricanes have historically plagued our state. A complete Disaster Plan for Associations, before (Part I) and after (Part II) a hurricane event, has been composed by Gary A. Poliakoff, J.D. (of Becker & Poliakoff P.A.), one of the State�s foremost attorneys in the field of Condominium Law. Click Here to view current Hurricane Advisories from the National Weather Service�s (NWS) Hurricane Center. Also available for your edification are Flood Advisories and Tornado Warnings. The two-part Plan is followed by a comprehensive set of Hurricane Links.


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Water Shortage on a Flood Plain?
Conservation Measures along the Galt Mile

Click Here to South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Web Site July 28, 2007 - South Florida is experiencing one of the most severe water shortages in its history! Water levels in Lake Okeechobee are at critical minimums. Until nature responds with an above average seasonal rainfall, only serious conservation measures will avert catastrophic health and economic consequences.

Click Here to South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Web Site Officially responsible for managing our water supply, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is a regional, governmental agency that oversees the water resources in the southern half of the state � 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys. To ensure adequate drinking water for area residents, they have instituted a series of conservation measures to restrict unnecessary utilization. Since about half of the area's drinking water is used for irrigation and washing vehicles, they are the primary conservation targets.

Lake Okeechobee
Water restrictions apply to all businesses, shopping centers, government buildings, street medians, parks, golf courses and other recreational facilities, as well as area residents whose water supply source is Lake Okeechobee or another surface water source that is recharged by Lake Okeechobee. On May 30th, the lake�s water level was measured at 8.94 feet NGVD (National Geodetic Vertical Datum, or NGVD, is a nationally established coordinate system used to determine elevation, especially in areas close to sea level.), breaking the all-time record low of 8.97 feet NGVD set during the 2001 drought. For the 12 months ending in June, the 41 inches of rain that fell across the 16-county region was more than 10 inches below the annual average. On June 30th, Lake Okeechobee reached another all-time record low of 8.88 feet above sea level. During the following week, new lows were reported on a daily basis, hitting 8.82 feet above sea level on July 5th.

Click Here to Lower East Coast Warning Area Map
Phase I water use restrictions (voluntary curbs) were implemented following the SFWMD�s November 9, 2006 Declaration of Water Shortage Warning and were expanded to Phase II by a vote of the SFWMD Governing Board on March 15, 2007. As the drought intensified, Phase III restrictions were enacted, reducing irrigation and car wash utilization to one day a week. After raining out many South Florida Independence Day celebrations, several consecutive days of intermittent heavy rains improved water supply conditions over much of South Florida. On July 11th, SFWMD relaxed restrictions, reinstituting Modified Phase II water use regulations for the Upper and Lower East Coast Service Areas, which comprise the residential areas of St. Lucie, Martin, eastern Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, limiting all landscape irrigation to two days per week and four hours per day. Restrictions on all other uses of water were lifted. Certain complications left several jurisdictions under Modified Phase III restrictions. Unfortunately, Water Utilities in Lake Worth, Lantana, Hallandale and Dania Beach were identified as at risk for saltwater intrusion based on elevated chloride levels in monitoring wells. Owing to an obligation to supply water to Clear Lake, the City of West Palm Beach will also continue to suffer Modified Phase III restrictions.

Kissimmee River
Following are brief explanations of the terms mandated under Phase II and Phase III conditions:

  • Under Modified Phase II restrictions in the Upper and Lower East Coast, homes, businesses and government facilities with addresses that end in an odd number may water Wednesdays and Saturdays from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.; homes, businesses and government facilities with even-number addresses may water Thursdays and Sundays from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
  • Under the Modified Phase III restrictions for water users within the geographic service areas of the four utilities at risk, homes, businesses and government facilities with addresses that end in an odd number may only water on Saturdays from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.; homes, businesses and government facilities with even-number addresses may only water on Sundays from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
  • Under both orders, other outdoor water uses, such as low-volume pressure cleaning, and car and boat washing, are no longer restricted; agricultural, industrial, commercial, golf course, and recreational water uses also are no longer restricted. These restrictions apply to users who obtain their water from public utilities, private wells, canals, ponds and lakes.

South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Map
While the coastal areas recently enjoyed heavy rainfall, little help was realized in the central inland areas. As part of the vast Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system, which spans 16 counties across South Florida, Lake Okeechobee is ordinarily fed by the Kissimmee River. �In order to release water from Lake Kissimmee and the connected lake system into the Kissimmee River, the water levels in all of the lakes would have to climb above their regulation schedules,� said Lawrence Glenn, director of the SFWMD�s Kissimmee Division. �At this point, it would take well above normal rainfall over the remainder of the wet season to achieve that.� Despite recent rains, water levels remain below normal in the Kissimmee watershed that typically helps replenish Lake Okeechobee, and backup water storage in the watershed has been lost because of the severe regional drought.

Director Lawrence Glenn of the SFWMDs Kissimmee Division
Meanwhile, along the lower east coast, groundwater levels are steadily rising, aided by above average rainfall in June, including more than 12 inches of rain recorded over the past 30 days in coastal areas of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. These rains are replenishing water levels along Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, where many residential canals and local storm water ponds are now full. Given limited water storage options in residential areas of these counties and without the ability to move water all the way back to Lake Okeechobee, additional wet season rainfall likely will trigger the need for periodic flood protection discharges to tide. Without these discharges, streets and homes could be inundated in even modest rain events.

Assistant Deputy Executive Director for Water Resources Terrie Bates spelled out the crux of the State�s dilemma. �This combination of managing the system for a lack of water to the north and for flood control to the south demonstrates the variability and challenges presented by this dynamic regional water system. Even while Lake Okeechobee remains at record lows, counties along the lower east coast are now seeing good signs of recovery as above average rains replenish groundwater levels, canals and wetlands.� The strange juxtaposition of inadequate Lake levels and oversaturation in coastal regions has resulted in water use restrictions in areas threatened by flooding. Unless a more dynamic method of balancing the State�s water resources is developed, this eerie dilemma is likely to reoccur.

SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Eric Buermann
Appointed to the SFWMD Governing Board by Governor Charlie Crist in April 2007, Chairman Eric Buermann confirmed that the need to repeat or continue restrictive conservation measures may be unavoidable. Upon announcing the relaxation of water use curbs on July 11th, he warned, �With conditions in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed so radically different from conditions along the coast, the District is still in a severe regional water shortage. Even with modified water restrictions in some areas, we must still practice wise water use and conservation. Residents along the coast need to be prepared for the possibility that these modified restrictions may only represent a temporary reprieve. If water stages in Lake Okeechobee and other water bodies do not climb to acceptable levels by the end of the current wet season, we may find ourselves in full Phase II or Phase III restrictions again during the next dry season.�

While We Can't Irrigate We Dump Water Into Ocean
The only permanent solution for what appears to be an inherent system defect is the creation of a dynamic resource distribution mechanism. If a two-way system were engineered, the entire State would become a catchment area. Oversaturated coastal counties operating under water use restrictions could feed any rain overflow to depleted reservoirs instead of dumping it through flood protection discharges. By expanding the existing static distribution network into a dynamic system, rainfall anywhere in the State could ameliorate or eliminate Statewide or regional drought threats. Since building such a system would require substantial financial resources, weighing the benefits against the costs becomes central to the issue. Prior to undertaking such a decision, SFWMD officials must first formulate a scope of work and estimate anticipated project expense. Floridians could then choose between enduring continued water shortage ramifications or a significant tax consequence. Since recent shortages seem manageable through the application of mildly inconvenient conservation measures, officials are currently only willing to explore the implementation of a permanent conservation strategy. Unless the State is faced with a more serious threat to life and/or property, a complete system overhaul is not a likely prospect anytime soon.

Water Dripping Water Shortage Links

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 Rip Current Takes a Friend

A rip current is a river of sea water moving from the shore to the open ocean. It forms when onshore winds or large swell waves push water over a sandbar toward the shoreline and hold it there. The excess water, trapped between the sandbar and the shore, collects until it bursts through the sandbar. The water then returns to the open sea, usually in a narrow band or current. This action, ripping through the sandbar and moving back out to sea in a narrow current, gave rise to the term �rip current�.

National Weather Service (NWS), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has created a Graphical Hazardous Weather Outlook System to easily track dangerous weather conditions such as waterspouts, flash flooding, rip currents, etc. as the intensity of a color increases, so does the level of concern for the threatened danger. The set of color codes to the left show the various intensities of local rip currents. Click on the Graphic (or Here) to see the location and degree of rip currents affecting the Galt Mile area.

Rip currents occur around the world at �surf� beaches, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. Erroneously called undertows and rip tides, these currents can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Some more permanent rip currents, associated with groins or jetties, may last for days. Near the beach, rip currents are narrow (30-60 feet wide) with increasing width as they extend up to 1000 feet offshore. The velocity of the water can be as high as 5 MPH, which is faster than any Olympic swimmer.

Rip currents can be readily seen from the shore. If the current has recently formed, you will see murky water (as compared to the surrounding water) due to �sediment mixing� as a channel is opened in the sandbar. However, if the rip current has lasted a long time, the color of the water will appear darker (compared to the surrounding water color) due to the channel carved by the flowing water. Also, you can spot a rip current by looking for objects or foam moving steadily seaward. Wave heights are also lower and choppier in rip currents. Polarized sunglasses, by cutting the glare, can aid in locating rip currents. When swimming at a public beach, they can be easily seen by the local beach patrol from their elevated towers. Watch for their posted flags or signs warning you of the danger. When frequenting a private beach, a small amount of knowledge can save your life.

Multiple Rip Currents
Attempting to swim directly back to shore against the current, which can be as strong as 5 MPH, will result in exhaustion and in some cases, drowning. Since 1989, an average of 19 persons died each year owing to rip currents in Florida. On average, rip currents caused more Florida deaths than hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and lightning combined. Many victims are tourists who are unfamiliar with the dangers of the ocean. All victims were unaware of the few simple facts that could have saved their lives.

Newly formed Rip Current - Sediment Moving Seaward
New Rip Current - Sediment Moving Seaward
Since rip currents are shallow water processes and NOT undertows, you can be pulled away from the shore but NOT pulled under the water. The most common mistake drowning victims make is to panic and try to swim directly toward the shore. Even the best Olympic swimmers are not able to successfully swim toward shore in the strongest rip currents. The key to surviving a rip current is to calmly swim out of the current. Since the currents are relatively narrow, you can escape the flow by swimming parallel to the shore until you break free, and then swim diagonally toward the shore. If you cannot swim out of the current, float until it dissipates. Once free of the current, swim diagonally toward the shore or continue to float and summon the beach patrol (or passers by) by waving your hands.

A good friend and neighbor that lived on the Galt Mile, Joseph Boghos, was in good shape and enjoyed excellent health. A veteran Regency Tower resident, Joe was a strong swimmer, often predisposed to taking advantage of the ocean�s proximity to exercise. Joe was pulled from the ocean a few hundred feet from shore. Medical authorities confirmed that he did not sustain a heart attack while swimming. Police suspect that he was caught in a rip current. They surmise that he attempted to swim directly to shore. Had Joe been aware that all he had to do to escape the rip current was to swim parallel to the shore for a short distance before swimming toward the shore, he would be with us today.

YOU, fortunately, are now aware of this. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your neighbors. If one valuable life is saved from this information, Joe will be pleased. So will we!

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Holiday Fatality at Southpoint
Rip Current Implicated in Galt Mile Drowning

January 5, 2007 - Rip currents are no joke. They are deadly. They occur with surprising regularity along the South Florida coast. As local residents read about an assembly line of rip current fatalities, they become progressively indifferent. This parade of death reports has the same numbing effect as police blotter entries, traffic fatalities and tragic fire losses. The difference between lives taken by idiosyncratic wave activity and the other mentioned formats is explained in a word - avoidable.

Rip Current Configuration
Of course, exercising good judgment will crimp traffic accidents, fatal fires and, to a lesser extent, violent crimes. Similarly, swimming along the shore during a rip current warning flies in the face of common sense. While judgment provides statistical relief to certain tragic outcomes, the victims of these incidents share a degree of helplessness. If hopelessly trapped in a burning building or targeted by some inebriated lunatic driving a semi, chances are your goose is cooked. However, if you find yourself swimming an eighth mile from the shore amid serious rip currents, your fate is in your own hands. If you can swim, you can swim around the rip current!

Two unfortunate situations can lead to disaster when facing a rip current. Not knowing the simple trick to escaping its clutches and/or not recognizing what a rip current is. Many vacationers are ignorant about rip currents. When caught in what appears to be a watery treadmill in which no amount of swimming evidences progress, panic sets in. Penetrating a rip current is all but impossible - even for an Olympic swimmer. If people don�t understand why they can�t escape the grips of rip currents, they�re doomed.

In order to penetrate the psychological barrier erected in response to the jarring spate of rip current drowning deaths, news must contain familiar names and places. This past week, Fort Lauderdale residents and visiting vacationers suffered an onslaught of rip currents. Unfortunately, the familiarity that focuses ordinarily numbed sensibilities on tragic news reached into Galt Mile homes. News of a rip current death in the ocean behind Southpoint reawakened seemingly hibernating concerns about this quiet killer.

View of Rip Current from Beach
On December 31st, a vacationing 47 year old Colombian physician, Dr. Enrique Ponce de Leon, was enjoying the Southpoint beach when he became aware of a disturbance near the water. Southpoint beachgoers noticed a man floating face down in the ocean. After the visiting gastroenterologist helped pull the unfortunate victim from the water, he and his wife, a thoracic surgeon, performed CPR until the arrival of Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue.

Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue Division Chief Lois Bowman
The Doctor�s efforts, although heroic, were futile. Dr. Ponce de Leon commented, �The man was blue when he came from the sea. There was water from his mouth and water from his nose.� He conceded that the man might already have been dead prior to their revival attempts. Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue Division Chief Lois Bowman confirmed that the man was pronounced dead at Holy Cross Hospital shortly thereafter.

The victim, 62-year-old Emile Buzhager, came from New York to visit with childhood friends at the Southpoint condominium. After accompanying his wife to the Southpoint beach, he went for a Sunday afternoon swim in the ocean as she sat nearby. Attempting to clarify the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, Chief Bowman said, �There are heavy rip tides (sic � rip currents) out there. We�ve had water rescues. People are caught up in the rip tides and they can�t come in.�

Lifeguard Orders Swimmers Near Shore at Fort Lauderdale Beach
Bowman went on to explain that this wasn�t an isolated incident. Fort Lauderdale lifeguards pulled in five people from rip currents on Saturday and another 21 by sundown on Sunday. By 2 p.m. on Sunday, lifeguards were warning residents to come in closer to shore, exhorting that they not wade into the ocean above the waist.

Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Katherine Collins
Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Katherine Collins expanded on the battle Municipal lifeguards were waging with rip currents plaguing unsuspecting holiday beachgoers. Collins explained that while some swimmers managed to free themselves from the treacherous waters, others needed lifeguards to pull them to safety. She said, �Some passed out on the sand as they pulled themselves in. Those who swallowed a lot of water during the ordeal are sick. They�ll be vomiting over the next couple days.�

Captain Breck Ballou, supervisor of Fort Lauderdale�s Ocean Rescue Division, put the seemingly large number of rescues into perspective. When asked whether so many incidents were unusual, he claimed, �it�s not, considering the amount of people in the water: Hundreds.� Ballou advised, �Even if you are an expert swimmer, swim in front of a lifeguard and stay close to shore.�

Aerial View of Rip Current on Galt Mile Beach
While rip currents present the greatest danger on Florida�s beaches, they appear almost inviting from the shore. They are responsible for 8 out of 10 drowning deaths at the beach. Rip currents, which are common on many U.S. beaches, are often misnamed rip tides or undertows. But they aren�t tides, and they don�t pull you under water.

Conditions responsible for rip currents start on a windy day, usually before or after a storm. Winds propel waves that crash over a near-shore sandbar. Gravity pulls the water back to sea. More waves � and the sandbar � keep the accumulated water from flowing out. Eventually, tons of water flow sideways along the shore. This is called a longshore current. If you�ve ever gone swimming and found yourself pulled far from your blanket on the beach, you�ve had first-hand experience with a longshore current.

Rip Current Configuration
Surf pushes water inside the sandbar until it collapses under the pressure. When there�s a break in the sandbar, the longshore currents head out to sea. As they funnel through the break, they develop incredible strength. This is a rip current. It can flow as fast as 5 mph � faster than an Olympic swimmer and stronger than Arnold. Contrary to popular belief, someone caught in a rip current isn�t pulled under water. And it won�t flow to France � the rip current dissipates just beyond the breakers. But it�s still a killer.

To complicate matters, rip currents alter water conditions in the ocean environment so that they stimulate man-of-war proliferation. These large stinging jellyfish are enervated by the heightened wave current activity. Captain Ballou said that quite a few people were stung on Sunday. �It�s just not a good day to go in, but the sun is shining so people go in,� Ballou said. �I have talented lifeguards who work for me. When push comes to shove, we make the rescue. A lot of people were grateful we were working today.�

Click Here for a Larger View As deadly as rip currents are, they are eminently survivable - if you stay calm and know exactly what to do. To escape, just tread water and allow the rip current to carry you out - they tend to dissipate outside the breaking surf. You can then either wait for help or swim around the rip current and back to shore. Unfortunately, since most people are unaware of the circumstances surrounding their predicament, they panic and try in vain to swim against the current. Most victims drown simply because they tire out.

Click Here for a Larger View Ballou suggested that anyone considering swimming in the ocean should check the lifeguard signs for warning flags. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection�s Uniform Beach Warning Flag system was designed to alert swimmers to water conditions at the beach. Some are intuitive (green flag: low hazard, calm conditions; yellow flag: medium hazard, moderate surf/and or currents; red flag: high hazard, rough conditions, strong surf and/or currents (rip currents). Others require interpretation � purple flag means marine pests are present (jellyfish) and a double red flag (red over red) means that water is closed to the public � �Keep Out�.

District 91 Statehouse Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff
Since the City of Fort Lauderdale cannot provide oversight along its entire shoreline span, perhaps we should consider some pro-active alternative. An initial reaction to learning about this standardized warning legend would be to recommend the implementation of this warning system along the Galt Mile by every beachfront Association. The problem lies with the Associations� insurance carriers. Evidently, placing warning flags on Association property heightens the Association�s liability, potentially increasing their premium expense. Upon learning about this dilemma, District 91 Statehouse Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff recommended an alternative. Any Association can safely place a placard by their beach access notifying beachgoers that there are potential dangers inherent in using the beach and recommending that they contact Ocean Rescue to ascertain current local water conditions. The Miami office of the National Weather Service posts the hazard risk levels for rip currents, lightning, wind, waterspouts, temperature, flood and the current UV (ultraviolet) Index on the internet. (Click Here to see a current data summary for local hazard levels.) After all, these aren�t minor inconveniences � people are dying! Four days later, the body of 70-year-old retired Pennsylvania State University accounting professor Robert Koehler washed up behind the Palms Condominium down the beach, another victim of rip currents!

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Rip Currents Stalk Seasonal Visitors

Grabs Galleon Guest

Galleon President Donna Oppert
December 7, 2009 - On November 11, 2009,
Galleon General Manager Marcy Kravit notified the Galt Mile Community Association about a near-drowning that occurred the previous day. After consulting with Galleon Board President Donna Oppert, she decided to safeguard the privacy of those individuals involved in the incident by withholding any identifying information. In her correspondence, she states:

Galleon Manager Marcy Kravit
�On Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at approximately 9:18 am a guest staying at The Galleon was caught up in the undertow, swallowed a large amount of water and nearly drowned. The victim was saved by a fellow Galleon resident and another swimmer nearby. Those individuals were recognized for their heroic efforts. The Fort Lauderdale Police and EMS arrived on the scene and treated the swimmer. The Fort Lauderdale officers and paramedics that had arrived in record time were extremely professional and proficient in handling the situation. They had a tough time convincing the individual to be treated and transported to a nearby hospital for further observation. Rip currents can pull swimmers away from the shore line and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.�

Dangers at the Beach A survey conducted last year polled South Florida residents about the greatest source of danger at the beach. While sharks and jellyfish took the top spots, with ultraviolet radiation (too much sun) grabbing an honorable mention, respondents snubbed the single greatest cause of death at the beach. Rip currents kill hundreds of people in the U.S. each year � mostly Floridians � and thousands worldwide. 8 out of 10 beach fatalities result from rip currents. They are also precedent to more than 80% of the 70,000 rescues performed annually by surf beach lifeguards.

Hero septuagenarian Attorney Charles Schulze
The Galleon incident was one in a seemingly endless procession of local drowning deaths and close calls ascribed to rip currents. Last March, 41 year-old Kevin Booser was swimming near 1735 N. Atlantic Blvd. off Fort Lauderdale Beach when caught by a rip current just after 11:45 a.m. After the visitor from Hershey, Pa. was dragged ashore by friends and lifeguards, paramedics transported him to Broward General Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. In April, 73 year-old Washington D.C. Attorney Charles Schulze noticed two children struggling with the rough surf near South Ocean Boulevard off Pompano Beach. After charging in and guiding Joshua (9) and Benjamin Anderson (12) of Penfield, N.Y. around a rip current, he succumbed. Despite CPR revival efforts by Pompano lifeguards that scrambled from several blocks away, the �hero� septuagenarian was pronounced dead at Holy Cross Hospital. One month later, a visiting Dutch couple was rescued from rip currents in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, one of five similar near-fatal L-B-T-S incidents within 24 hours. Lauderdale-By-The-Sea averages five rip current drowning deaths every year.

Regency Tower Resident Joseph Boghos
Closer to home, Southpoint visitor Emile Buzhager (62), Plaza East unit owner David Czelusniak (61) and longtime resident Joseph Boghos of Regency Tower (79) were among Galt Mile rip current fatalities during the past few years. I knew Joe well. He founded Joseph�s Middle East Bakery Inc. in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the largest supplier of pita bread on the East Coast. He used to love handing out pita bread to hundreds of grateful beachgoers. His second favorite activity was swimming in the ocean. Although a brilliant former technician at MIT�s Lincoln Laboratories, Joe didn�t know the simple technique to escape a rip current, and paid with his life. Were it not for spontaneous Samaritan heroics of the type exhibited at The Galleon, the morbid list would be further bloated by a score of victims from almost every local beachfront association. And the beat goes on...

Marine Land Mines

Longshore Drift Rip currents proliferate at �surf� beaches around the world, such as those lining the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. Often mischaracterized as undertows and rip tides, these currents can last from a few minutes to a few hours, although adjacent groins or jetties can extend rip currents for days. Close to the beach, rip currents are narrow (30-60 feet wide) and gradually widen as they extend offshore. The velocity of the water can be as high as 5 MPH (8 KPH), substantially exceeding sprint capabilities of the fastest Olympic swimmers.

Rip Current Configuration
As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they break near the shoreline into two component currents, a longshore current that travels along the shoreline and rip current that travels back to the open ocean. From the perspective of beachgoers, these currents are largely benign until obstructed by natural or man-made obstacles such as depressions, groins, jetties and sandbars. The resulting deflection concentrates (strengthens) the flow in certain areas while dissipating (weakening) it in others. The interaction of this strong and weak wave activity creates circulation cells that vary in size and strength according to the configuration of the obstruction. Longshore currents that smash into a groin or jetty will aggressively deflect seaward as rip currents. However, the rip currents reputed internationally as killers result primarily from wave interaction with sandbars and channels.

Longshore Drift When high winds push waves over a near-shore sandbar, gravity strains to pull the water back out to sea. A series of wind-propelled waves � and the sandbar � serve to obstruct the accumulated water from naturally evacuating. Eventually, the tons of trapped water will start to flow sideways along the shore, forming a longshore current. If you�ve ever gone swimming and suddenly found yourself inexplicably far afield from your blanket on the beach, you�ve had a first-hand experience with a longshore current. Longshore currents are also major players in the tidal erosion that carries our beach sand south, creating the need for intermittent renourishments.

Multiple Rip Currents
Eventually, the pressure creates a break in the sandbar, through which the longshore currents can barrel out to sea. As this pent-up water funnels through the break, it develops incredible strength. SHAZZAM � this is the rip current worthy of Post Office wall notoriety. As a channel is opened in the sandbar, the surrounding water becomes visibly murky due to sediment mixing. Rip currents can also be identified by the uninterrupted seaward movement of objects or foam on the ocean surface. Wave heights appear lower and choppier in rip currents than in the surrounding water. A beachfront marked by several parallel offshore streams of bubbly foam is indicative of multiple breaks in the underlying sandbar � each one fomenting a rip current.

The Key to Survival

Despite the best efforts of lifeguards, unheralded Samaritans and other first responders to rescue dozens of ensnared local residents and visitors each year, the obituaries continue to mount � mostly for fatally unprepared visitors. These events occur with such alarming regularity that they rarely rate more than a paragraph in the local police blotter (the Galleon incident went unnoticed). They are like marine ghost stories, occasionally woven into discussions at seaside bars and dramatically revised around oceanfront condominium swimming pools. Ironically, a little knowledge could have prevented the vast majority of these tragedies. Had the hapless victims resisted their initial instinct to swim back to shore against the current, most could have survived.

Rip Current Survival Opportunities
Most new Galt Mile residents are armed with little more than a hand-waving knowledge of rip currents. Many are as inadequately prepared for a confrontation as their guests and visitors. As deadly as rip currents are, they are eminently survivable � if you stay calm and know exactly what to do. Inshore rip currents are highly localized events, ranging in width from 30 to 60 feet. To escape, either tread water or float while allowing the rip current to carry you out (they tend to dissipate just outside the breaking surf). Once free of its grip, either wait for help or swim around the rip current and back to shore.

How to Escape a Rip Current By swimming or floating parallel to the beach for 15 to 20 yards before returning to shore, anyone can easily circumvent these deadly marine artifacts. Unfortunately, since most people that become caught in a rip current are unaware of the circumstances surrounding their predicament, they panic and try in vain to swim against the current. Rip currents do not pull people under water, only away from the shore. Drowning deaths occur when victims overcome by exhaustion are no longer able to remain afloat.

Click Here for a Larger View Since the City of Fort Lauderdale is fiscally incapable of providing lifeguard oversight along its entire shoreline, the Galt Mile Community Association Advisory Board considered some pro-active alternatives. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection designed a Uniform Beach Warning Flag system to alert swimmers about water conditions at the beach. Some of the flag symbols are intuitive (green flag: low hazard, calm conditions; yellow flag: medium hazard, moderate surf/and or currents; red flag: high hazard, rough conditions, strong surf and/or currents (rip currents). Others require some interpretation � purple flag means marine pests are present (i.e. jellyfish) and a double red flag (red over red) means get out of the water NOW - and stay out.

Goal: One Year � No Obits

No Beach Flags Upon investigating the prospective implementation of this warning system along the Galt Mile by individual beachfront Associations, objections were raised by several of the associations� insurance carriers. In effect, placing warning flags on Association property heightens the Association�s liability, potentially increasing premium costs.

Longshore Drift Alternatively, some associations have posted rip current admonitions on bulletin boards, web sites and association newsletters. Since these venues primarily target residents and tenants, the benefit is somewhat limited. In her letter, Ms. Kravit correctly advocates reaching those most vulnerable to a catastrophic misjudgment, stating, �It is important to educate seasonal residents and out of town guests that are beach goers entering into hazardous waters.� Not surprisingly, visiting guests comprise South Florida�s single largest victim pool.

Association Rules Most associations tailored handouts for guests and visitors that outline the Association�s rules. In 2007, the Galt Mile Community Association recommended that information dedicated to surviving rip currents be incorporated into those handouts. Unfortunately, some association boards declined, again citing insurance concerns.

Click to poster size Rip Current Sign To sidestep any prospective liability, instead of distributing survivability information on official association documents, some associations have deployed rip current content created by the National Weather Service (NWS). Available in English and Spanish, their posters and flyers are extremely simplistic with accompanying graphics that are easily interpretable by children and teenagers with nanosecond attention spans. Available on the NWS website are several free printable variations of this material (

To help penetrate the cynical indifference that visiting vacationers tend to reserve for native customs, local regulations and condo rules, when security or office personnel pass over the handout, they should take twenty seconds to read aloud the few lines that describe how to escape a rip current and additionally ask short-stay visitors if they have any questions. Twenty seconds in exchange for one less obituary � not a bad Holiday trade-off. Almost every Galt Mile resident who has lived here for more than a few years has a friend, neighbor or family member who was either threatened or killed by rip currents. If every association treats this danger with the respect it deserves, we may finally rack up our first year ever without an avoidable drowning death. Have a wonderful � and SAFE � Holiday Season.

Longshore Drift FYI: Governor Charlie Crist has declared that June 6 - 12, 2010 is Rip Current Awareness Week in the State of Florida.

  How to Escape a Rip Current

Rip currents form when strong wind and swell waves push water over sandbars, temporarily trapping it between the sandbar and the shore. The pressure builds until the weight of the excess water near the shore rips an opening in the sandbar, allowing water to rush seaward. It you are caught in a Rip current, you should swim parallel to the shore to escape the flow of water, then swim diagonally toward the shore.

 Rip Current Links

The City of Fort Lauderdale Beach Report - Call (954) 828-4597

The City of Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue Web Site (Updated Daily)

South Florida Tide Table

The National Weather Service (NWS) Rip Current Hazard Map for South Florida (Updated Daily)

NWS Surf Zone Forecast for Miami & Southeast Florida

National Weather Service Rip Current Safety Tips

The NWS�s �Rip Currents: Break the Grip of the Rip�

The NWS�s �Rip Currents: Overview�

The NWS�s Glossary of Some Terms Related to Rip Currents

The NWS�s Rip Currents FAQ

The NWS�s Rip Currents Science

The City of Miami Beach�s �Ocean Rescue� Rip Currents FAQ

The United States Lifesaving Association�s Rip Currents - Rivers Through The Surf

The U.S. Navy�s �Rip Currents: A Field Experiment and Numerical Model�

University of Florida study - �Rip Currents May Hang Around for Weeks, Months�

University of Florida study - �Formulation of a Rip Current Predictive Index Using Rescue Data�

Click Here to contact the NWS about Rip Currents!

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 Hurricane Season

Gary Poliakoff J.D.
Gary Poliakoff J.D.
During a three week period from the end of July through the middle of August, 2004, we watched hurricanes Bonnie and Charley dance around Florida, Hurricane Earl hopped from the Atlantic to the Pacific as Hurricane Frances gathered strength. Fortunately, our Condominium Association distributed copies of a Hurricane Plan in preparation for a potential disaster. Our maintenance and security personnel worked with volunteer condo owners to secure the building and its residents.
Gary A. Poliakoff, J.D. (former Managing Shareholder of Becker & Poliakoff P.A.), a pioneer in the field of Condominium Law, composed many of the Florida Statutes governing Condominiums, Cooperatives and Homeowner Associations. His legal and practical insights into the protective measures required for Associations facing natural disasters are experiential and authoritative. Minor adjustments to an Association�s Documents and reasonable preparations can save $$$ millions in recovery expenses. The Disaster Plan is divided into two parts (see below), Part I: Before the Storm and Part II: After the Storm. A plethora of Hurricane Links follow the set of disaster plans.

Becker & Poliakoff P.A. represent the interests of Associations throughout the State of Florida. They maintain a web site devoted to the Condominium Association Leadership Lobby (CALL), a powerful voice in Tallahassee that concentrates on issues impacting Condo, Co-op and Homeowner Associations and their resident-members. Their CALL web site is replete with �always fresh� information about Association governance, safety and finance issues including information about FEMA assistance and IRS/FL Dept. of Revenue relief for Associations and Condo residents that are victimized by disasters. It also carefully scrutinizes and analyzes current legislation affecting Associations. Galt Mile Association members are invited to access the CALL web site to review Association news as it breaks. Click Here to go to the CALL web site. (Check with your Association's office to retrieve the login and password!)

National Hurricane Center
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CAUTION! - In the aftermath of a disaster, many people understandably rush to enter into contracts with public adjusters and/or �one-stop� contractors who claim they can do it all. Do not allow event-related anxiety to short-change your judgement. Don't hesitate to contact your insurance agent, your attorney, your accountant and any reliable contractors and engineers who have performed work for you in the past! Take bids and check references carefully. A cottage industry of vultures that prey on frightened residents is extremely active in South Florida! Click Here to read about some of the shadier scams that some local vultures have perpetrated.

  Before The Storm: Implementing A Disaster Plan

Part I

by Gary A. Poliakoff, J.D.

Hurricane Andrew opened our eyes to the vulnerability of multi-family residential communities to catastrophic events. In the aftermath of the Hurricane many authors recommended that communities implement a disaster plan in order to avoid the pitfalls experienced by victims of Hurricane Andrew. Unfortunately, Hurricane Opal, which struck the Florida Panhandle with 140 mile per hour winds and a 20 foot storm surge, painfully reminded us of the hazards of procrastination.

While most of us relate disasters to natural phenomena such as hurricanes, floods and tornados, our communities are equally susceptible to fire, with similar consequences.

This article is based upon first hand experience assisting the victims of both Hurricanes Andrew and Opal with their recovery efforts. These, then, are the �Lessons of Andrew and Opal.�


A complete disaster preparedness plan will allow for the possibility of a total construction loss. Consider the impact of a disaster such as Andrew. While most residents of South Florida were able to clean up the storm debris within a relatively short period of time and return to their normal routines, for tens of thousands of others, life remained in turmoil for years after the storm; for not only did they lose their homes, but many permanently lost their work places.

With the possibility of such wide-spread turmoil, the importance of preparing and adhering to a disaster plan cannot be overstated. Consider the following recommendations when implementing a disaster plan:

Inventory documents and records - Those who experienced the brunt of Andrew/Opal never contemplated that essential information, critical to the initiation of emergency response and action, would be destroyed. Every association should keep a record of essential information at a secure location away from the community. The inventory should include:

  1. The location of and account numbers for all bank accounts, including CDs and other savings accounts;
  2. A list of all vendors and copies of all contracts;
  3. A list of accountants, lawyers, managers, insurance agents and others whom the community relies upon for professional guidance.
  4. Copies of insurance policies, including the name of the agent, and other pertinent information; and
  5. A current list of names and addresses of unit owners, including emergency contact persons for each of them.

Inventory equipment - Create either a video or photographic record of the community and its equipment, and maintain a copy of the record off-site.

Designate a disaster coordinator - An officer, director, or owner trained in disaster response should be authorized to implement the disaster response program.

Establish an information facilitator - Many communities devastated by Andrew were evacuated prior to the storm. The residents, including the officers and directors, scattered in all directions, rarely leaving word of where they were going. Following the storm, a total communications blackout and the destruction of most community facilities left nowhere for owners to meet. It was difficult, if not impossible, to locate community leaders and communicate with them.

Every association needs to identify a person to serve as an information facilitator. The name, address, and phone number of this person should be provided to every owner so when the ability to communicate with other owners or the board is disrupted, the information facilitator can coordinate communications among the residents of the community.

Establish an emergency operations center - Designate a location from which the board will operate in the event of a disaster.

Include contingency plansAndrew�s impact on the community was different than Opal�s. For the most part, South Dade communities were occupied by full time residents who boarded up their homes, stocked food and water supplies and filled their automobiles� gas tanks. However, few contemplated devastation so great that they would be unable to leave their homes for an extended period following the storm or, thereafter, find available housing. Generally, most Florida Panhandle condominium owners were seasonal residents who pooled their units into large rental pools. For them, the storm meant an interruption of both income and vacation destination. Alternative scenarios must be contemplated when preparing for a disaster.


State laws and document restrictions designed to insure owner access to information and input in the decision-making process often impede disaster recovery. For example, the use of reserve funds in an emergency is hampered by laws requiring prior approval of a majority of the total voting interests. If necessary, documents should be reviewed and amended to remove barriers to recovery and provide boards with emergency powers. Areas of concern include:

�Insurance Trustee� provisions - Generally found within the insurance section of the documents, these provisions require that the proceeds of insurance settlements be paid to a third party for disbursement at the instruction of the association�s engineer. When such a provision exists, insurers will not pay proceeds to the association until a trustee is designated. This can critically delay the receipt of funds necessary for disaster response. It is preferable for the board to act as a �trustee� with disbursements being authorized only when approved in advance by an independent engineer or construction manager employed by the association.

Access to Units - While the Condominium and Cooperative Acts grant the association an irrevocable right of access when necessary for the maintenance, repair or replacement of the common elements or of any portion of a unit to be maintained by the association or as necessary to prevent damage to the common elements or to a unit or units, a gray area exists in relation to the repair or reconstruction of portions of the units maintained by the unit owners. To avoid conflicts, the documents should provide:

  1. Right of Access to the units to repair or replace any portion of the condominium property insured by the association.
  2. Association as Agent - The association should be irrevocably appointed as agent for each unit owner, each owner of a mortgage or other lien upon a unit and each owner of any other interest in the condominium property, in order to adjust all claims arising under insurance policies purchased by the association and to execute and deliver releases upon the payment of claims.

Powers of Board or Disaster Coordinator to Act in an Emergency - Members of the Board (though less than a quorum) and/or a designated Disaster Coordinator, who act in good faith without pecuniary gain, should be indemnified from actions by members of the association and should have emergency powers, including, but not limited to, the power to contract for: (1) emergency services; (2) security from vandalism; (3) removal of debris; and (4) engineering and other professional services to assist in disaster recovery.

Reconstruction vs. Termination - The unit owners at one South Dade condominium destroyed by Hurricane Andrew were shocked to learn of a provision in their declaration of condominium which provided for automatic termination when damage exceeded fifty (50%) percent or more of the condominium, unless a majority of the total voting interests voted within sixty days to rebuild. Since the unit owners had scattered all across the Country, the association had to seek court relief to prevent the activation of the provision. It is preferable for the documents to require a vote of the owners to terminate the condominium, not to rebuild it.


Maintaining adequate insurance is easier said than done. Nevertheless, the documents must be examined in concert with the law to ensure that the scope of coverage satisfies both. Notwithstanding the fact that the Condominium or Cooperative Act may exclude from coverage various unit components and finishes [floor coverings, wall coverings, ceiling coverings, a/c units, built-in cabinets], a provision in the declaration requiring that the association provide coverage for �all improvements� installed by the developer may impose liability on the association for failure to maintain such coverage.

In addition to basic coverage, Andrew and Opal taught us that some major sources of economic loss, such as landscaping, exterior building paint, building foundations, walkways, pools, tennis courts, and satellite dishes, are not normally covered by insurance. While excluded from basic coverage, some areas of potential loss can be covered for a small additional premium. None are as important as �ordinance or law� exclusion.

Ordinance or law exclusion states that the insurer will not pay for loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by the enforcement of any ordinance or law: (1) regulating the construction, use or repair of the property; or (2) requiring the tearing down of any property, including the cost of removing its debris. This exclusion is aimed at the application of building codes that may require more expensive reconstruction material, installation, design or methods than those used in the existing building. It may also apply to environmental laws that require elaborate and expensive decontamination processes, or upgrade construction practices in hurricane and flood zones.

For example, following Hurricane Andrew, a Dade County Ordinance required that a number of partially damaged buildings [considered to be damaged by 50% or more] could be restored only if they were elevated to a specific height above sea level. Under such circumstances, the cost of elevation plus repair of the damage generally would exceed the limit of building insurance, unless there was coverage afforded under the rider to the base policy.

Many communities were left waterlogged by Hurricanes Andrew and Opal, only to find that their basic policies did not cover water damage from flooding. Effective October 1, 1994, all condominiums in flood zones, must purchase flood insurance equal to eighty (80%) percent of the value of the building, not to exceed a total limit of $250,000 per unit. New flood policies include coverage for foundations. The entire building is covered under one policy, including both the common elements and the individual units.

For many owners and managers in the Florida Panhandle, the greatest loss wasn�t property but, rather, income from lost rentals. Business interruption insurance is essential for owners or managers who rely upon vacation rentals for their livelihood. Managers, particularly, need to ensure that their business interruption coverage is not just for the premises where they maintain their offices, but also for the communities where they manage rental units.

Many homeowners failed to maintain coverage for their personal effects and building upgrades within their homes. It is recommended that homeowners residing in mandatory membership communities maintain homeowner coverage with at least the following endorsements:

  • Loss Assessment Coverage - Protects against special assessments levied by boards to cover losses from covered peril, when the primary coverage is inadequate.
  • Water Seepage Coverage - Covers water damage from wind-driven rain or water entering from a source other than an opening in the building (e.g. through stucco or around window frames.)
  • Additions, Alterations, Improvements and Betterments Coverage - Covers upgrades, as well as real property added by the unit owner. This endorsement is often available with all risk coverage, without a water seepage exclusion.

Even assuming that one maintains adequate coverage, there is a risk that not every insurer will survive extraordinary claims. Andrew brought many insurance companies to their knees. Careful consideration must be given to the financial strength of the insurer. Keep in mind that the lowest quote is not always the most secure coverage.

It is imperative that a reserve fund be maintained for contingencies and to cover deductibles.

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  After The Storm: Implementing A Disaster Plan

Part II

by Gary A. Poliakoff, J.D.

�This article is based upon first hand experience assisting the victims of Hurricanes Andrew and Opal with their recovery efforts. These, then, are the �Lessons of Andrew and Opal.��


A quick response in accordance with preconceived plan will minimize damage and promote a speedy recovery. After the disaster, associations should take steps to:

Account for residents - Knowing the whereabouts of all residents greatly enhances emergency response time following a disaster. In a situation such as a hurricane, in which there is advance warning, a committee should ascertain which residents are remaining in the community and which are evacuating. A temporary destination address and phone number should be obtained from those who are evacuating. Once disaster strikes, the board�s first action should be to direct emergency medical assistance to any residents in need.

Survey the property and identify areas needing priority attention - Depending on the nature and extent of the damage, it may be necessary to evacuate or shore-up a structure and obtain security to protect against criminal acts and/or prevent further damage. All contacts with contractors should be made in advance, as part of the disaster plan.

Establish lines of communication - It is imperative to identify, in advance, a source outside the community to coordinate communications among community leaders following a disaster. The designated person may be a board member�s relative located in another city or a professional engaged by the community for that purpose. Regardless, every officer and director should be instructed to contact the communications coordinator within a fixed time period after the disaster and provide him or her with an address and phone number. The communications coordinator can also be a vital link between the board and the residents. Efforts should be made to locate all owners.

Dispel rumors by disseminating necessary information - After establishing a means of communication, every effort should be made to meet with owners to discuss the situation and inform them of the actions in progress to protect their property and respond to their needs.

Following Hurricane Opal, one astute manager began preparing a pre-recorded daily update accessible to unit owners who dial in to a given phone number.

Contact employees and vendors - The communications coordinator should maintain a detailed list of all vital information and services utilized by the community. This should include:

  1. A list of all vendors and professionals employed by the community (accountants, attorneys, insurance agents, etc.);
  2. Copies of all outstanding contracts, bank accounts, locations of all community funds (including CDS and/or other investments), and insurance policies; and
  3. The names of the building�s designers to use as a source of back-up for as-built plans and specifications.

It may be necessary to suspend or cancel ongoing contracts, such as pool and lawn services, following a disaster. Contracts should be reviewed to insure that in the event of a disaster, services can be suspended without obligation on the part of the Association.

Ensure protection of persons and property - Following Andrew, looting was widespread in some areas. It may be necessary to contract for private security when police are unavailable.


Within hours of any disaster, the affected community will be besieged by companies and individuals looking for work and/or offering disaster recovery services. This group will consist of qualified professionals, ranging from public adjusters to companies specializing in disaster recovery. The larger of these companies will arrive decked out in color coordinated uniforms, large debris removing equipment and even helicopters. Interspersed among the new arrivals will be the con men and profiteers who prey upon the misfortune of others.

While it is very tempting, when confronted with what initially will appear to be an insurmountable task of reconstruction, to sign the first contract stuck in your face, experience has shown that these quick solutions are formulas for disasters of greater magnitude than those already suffered. No greater application exists for the old adage that �haste makes waste� than in these situations. The best advice is to just say no and stick to your disaster plan which, hopefully, will include a plan that anticipates the five (5) phases of reconstruction:

  1. Project planning/scheduling;
  2. Construction bidding;
  3. Contract negotiations;
  4. Construction/rehabilitation; and
  5. Project completion/close out.

There are intervening steps you should take which may require contracts of short duration and for specific purposes. Even these contracts should be reviewed to insure that proper precautions are taken. The most urgent needs immediately after the disaster will be:

  1. Securing the community from acts of vandalism and looting;
  2. Removal of storm debris; and
  3. Shoring up building structures and closing openings in order to mitigate against further damage.

Once conditions stabilize, the disaster recovery team will be in a position to meet with professionals trained in disaster recovery, such as:

  1. Architect/Engineer - Responsible for assessing the damage, preparing plans and specifications in accordance with new building codes, assisting in selection of construction manager and defining other reconstruction requirements.
  2. Construction Manager - Oversees selection of general contractor, competitive bidding and administrators, directs and coordinates pay requisitions, change orders and all other activities of the parties, and resolves disputes.
  3. General Contractor - Employs and supervises laborers, supplies materials and builds project in accordance with architect�s/engineer�s plans and specifications, under the direction of the construction manager.
  4. Attorney - Reviews construction contracts to insure adequate assurance of job performance and warranties, and compliance with applicable lien laws.
  5. Public Adjuster - In some instances, the assistance of an independent public adjuster may be beneficial when dealing with the nuisances of an ambiguous insurance policy. While most adjusters will work for a fee based upon a percentage of the insurance proceeds, when the scope of assistance required is limited to specific items, the fee should be adjusted accordingly.

Review your condominium documents; particularly, the �repair after casualty� section of the insurance provision. It is not uncommon to find language such as the following:

  • Estimates of Costs - Immediately after deciding to rebuild or repair damage to property for which the association is responsible, the Association shall obtain reliable and detailed estimates of the cost to rebuild or repair.
  • Construction funds - The construction fund shall be disbursed in payment of such costs in the manner required by the board of directors of the association upon approval by an architect qualified to practice in Florida and employed by the association to supervise the work.

Where the aforesaid provisions exist in your documents, contracting for reconstruction prior to obtaining a scope of work will be contrary to both the association�s best interest, and the obligations set forth in the documents.

In order to respond to an emergency, the association may need to obtain a short term loan. Absent a restriction within the documents, not-for-profit community associations can borrow; however, they, generally, cannot pledge the condominium property as security. Most banks with which the association does business will approve a commercial line of credit secured by the association's accounts and/or assessment and lien rights. The association also may obtain a small business administration loan that is available to victims of disaster, generally, at lower interest rate. Of course, reserve funds can also be utilized if approved by a majority of the total voting interest.


On television, within minutes of a disaster, an insurance adjuster appears on the scene with checkbook in hand. In the space of a thirty second commercial, all claims are resolved, and the victims shower praise on the company�s quick response and positive attitude. While it does occasionally happen, it is an unlikely scenario. In a major disaster, it is rare, if not impossible, to fully assess the damages within such a short time frame. In fact, the association should not seriously entertain a settlement until the full scope of work is known and costs ascertained.

Immediately following the disaster, it will be necessary for the association to secure the property to mitigate against further damage and clean-up debris. Most insurers will offer advances for this purpose. As long as the association signs no releases or settlements, there is nothing wrong with accepting such advances.

Insurance policies need to be examined to ensure that �proof of loss� forms are filed within the time limit required under the policies. As a general rule, flood policies require that proof of loss be filed within sixty days of the flood.

Disasters do not respect geographic location or economic status and can occur at any time. Their effects can last for years; however, pre-disaster readiness will go a long way toward promoting recovery.

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Hey...Let Me In!

  How to Obtain an Entry Pass

When a mandatory evacuation is declared, the barrier island becomes extremely vulnerable. Armed with the knowledge that many of the domiciles are vacant, certain human insects will attempt to gain unobstructed access to the temporarily �easy pickings�. Acknowledging their responsibility to secure the homes of those residents that heed the call to evacuate, the City of Fort Lauderdale strengthens the police presence throughout the barrier island. While all beach exits are open to traffic during an evacuation (leaving is easy), return access to the island is heavily restricted (returning is difficult). To deter looting and other criminal activity, police stationed at entrance checkpoints carefully scrutinize the identification of anyone attempting to return to the island, verifying credentials as either a resident or an owner/operator of a barrier island concern. If you can�t prove that you either live or work here, you won�t get in!

Access points to get to the beach residential and business areas:

  • S.E. 17th Street
  • East Sunrise Blvd.
  • 4200 N. A1A


No access will be allowed at these locations:

  • East Oakland Park Blvd.
  • East Las Olas Blvd.

Who is authorized:

  • Residents
  • Business owners/operators
  • Emergency medical personnel
  • Law Enforcement personnel

Entry requires approval. What is needed for proof:

  • Light bill
  • Drivers License
  • Water bill
  • Tax bill
  • Proof of employment
  • or similar verifyable identification

The City distributes entry passes to residents and business owners of the barrier island. Passes from the 2001 hurricane season are still good. If you have a pass from last year, you do not need a new pass.

Contact the Fort Lauderdale Police Department�s Community Support Division (CSD) at (954) 828-6400 and prepare to make available the following verifyable identification that you reside or work east of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW):

  • Light bill
  • Drivers License
  • Water bill
  • Tax bill
  • Proof of employment
  • or similar verifyable identification

Attention: Galt Mile Community Association Members!

Call the FLPD�s CSD (Community Support Division) at (954) 828-6400 if you have a condominium association or civic association meeting so that passes can be distributed in volume (one per family).

To get information concerning returning to the Fort Lauderdale Beach area, simply contact:

  • Hurricane Hot Line number: (954) 831-4000
  • Mass media (TV, radio, internet, newspapers, etc.) including Web links (see below)
  • Fort Lauderdale Police Department web site
  • Click Here to e-mail the Police Hurricane Coordinator.
  • The Galt Mile Community Association web site - (that�s right - right here!)

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Hurricane Vampires

Hurricane season, like any significant source of emotional distress, brings out the best and the worst in us. There are several species of vampire that feed on the misery of the season�s victims. The vast majority, however, resort to one of two popular scams � �cleanup� and �emergency repair�. The opportunities presented by the �cleanup� rip-off are available to anyone with a mottled conscience. Little or no equipment, training, experience or brains are required to participate. The �emergency repair� fraud, while not exactly rocket science, is more effective when supported by the appropriate documentation, equipment and pitch. The scams are also distinguished by their respective �marks�. The �cleanup� generally targets a government - federal, state, local or otherwise. The �emergency repair� scam was designed with you in mind!

  Cleanup Scam

Broward County Trash Site - Reese Road
Hurricanes Charley and Frances left the federal government with one of the most expensive cleanup undertakings in Florida�s history. Roughly $1 billion is earmarked to neutralize the mess. This doesn�t include construction, repair, insurance or maintenance - simply hauling off the garbage. In comparison, the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the lead agency financing disaster cleanups, spent $800 million to clear �Ground Zero� after the September 11, 2001 assault on the World Trade Center. Additionally, the $1 billion + only represents the 75% - 80% that FEMA covers; the remainder is funded locally. The half dozen legitimate companies that most municipalities contractually retain for this purpose do not maintain the equipment or manpower to clear the myriad tons of debris left in the wake of Charley and Frances. Connected companies like Crowder-Gulf, AshBritt Inc. and DRC Inc. (whose management and directorial boards are peppered with former FEMA Directors like Raymond �Buddy� Young [Crowder-Gulf] and James Lee Witt [DRC Inc.]) hire haulers, packers, grinders and an assortment of nondescript journeymen to take up the substantial slack.

Temporary Trash Collection Site
Haulers, for instance, generally net about $5 per cubic yard or roughly $200 for a full load of debris. Deceitful haulers weld a chain link fence across the lower half of the truck bed to impart the illusion that they are carrying a full load when, in fact, they carry just enough to hide the fence. Municipalities select temporary collection sites for the haulers to dump their loads. One acre is needed for every 9,000 cubic yards of material. Because these sites are often stipulated on the fly, they are usually poorly organized and monitored. Loads are registered for payment at the makeshift site entrance. Scammers seek these easy marks, get their load ticket stamped for payment, drive out the rear of the site unobserved and drive around to the entrance again to re-register the same load. During the high pressure environment manned by temporary hires, the same load can be registered for payment a dozen times.
Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response Michael D. Brown
To avoid identification, the culprit drives down the highway to the next town and repeats the routine. If the town has an organized system wherein haulers are limited to certain areas, the haulers are required to clean up their assigned locations before they can move on to the next one. That means picking up the smaller limbs and branches along with the large ones that more readily fill up the truck. After loading all the large tree debris, unscrupulous haulers cut down live trees to expand their loads.

Credentials are often sacrificed for expediency. City officials, not wanting to appear as if they are delaying their town�s recovery, often neglect a verification of references that might be perceived as �bureaucratic red tape�. FEMA Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response Michael Brown characterized emergency cleanup decisions as a balance between a community�s need for a quick cleanup versus protecting taxpayer dollars from being wasted on unnecessary or fraudulent debris removal. Referring to this uncomfortable compromise, Brown remarked, �I knew this would be an area ripe for abuse.�

  Emergency Repair Scam

The Florida Home Builders Association has produced a series of consumer protection TV spots warning of another area of fraud made fertile by the catastrophic aftereffects of Charley and Frances. Fly-by-night contractors have swept into disaster areas like locusts. For example, a Hollywood contractor known as ABC Restoration, Inc. transforms itself into a post-disaster restoration specialist doing business as �Dr. Dry� when the opportunity presents itself. A �Dr. Dry� representative quoted a Lee County couple $6500 - $7500 to repair some screens and their porch ceiling along with the removal of a drenched carpet from an adjacent room. They transferred the carpet to the front lawn and moved some upstairs furniture down to the porch before demanding an additional $12,000 to complete the repairs.

Another woman authorized �Dr. Dry� to bill her credit card $5000 to address the quote for that amount that she was given to remove furniture and wet carpeting from her home. Workers placed 10 large fans and 3 dehumidifiers throughout the house. They also cut holes through her ceiling before demanding another $6500 to complete the work. Despite billing her card for the additional amount, they finished the job and refused to refund her money when asked. �Dr. Dry� struck again in Fort Myers on August 17th. The industry standard for removal of wet carpet is roughly $3 to $8 per square yard. Dr. Dry removed 24 square yards of carpet from a house at the precipitous cost of $22 per square yard.

Attorney General Charlie Crist
The Florida Attorney General�s Office has charged �Dr. Dry� with violating state price gouging and unfair and deceptive trade practices statutes. Attorney General Charlie Crist admonished, �Florida citizens trying to rebuild their lives are relying on the fair dealing and honest assistance of home renovators. It is infuriating when we hear about businesses trying to profit off of someone else�s misery. We will vigorously pursue this complaint.� Dr. Dry or �ABC Restoration, Inc.� could receive civil penalties of $10,000 per violation per statute, in addition to attorney fees and costs. They will also be responsible for actual damages caused to consumers. With the advent of Hurricane Jeanne, Attorney General Crist warned, �Florida has suffered repeated, extreme weather conditions for the past several weeks. Unfortunately, citizens also need to be aware of the repeated acts of price gouging we have seen before, during and after the other three hurricanes. Overcharging citizens in dire need of goods is not only unacceptable, it is illegal, and we are utilizing all of our legal powers to combat this atrocious act.�

  Watch Your Back!

FEMA logo A September 21st release (Number: 1539-131) from FEMA cautions victims of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan to watch for an increased number of scam artists pretending to be employed by FEMA or other government agencies, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). �Consumers should keep in mind that a FEMA or SBA shirt or jacket is not absolute proof of someone�s affiliation with these agencies,� said Federal Coordinating Officer Bill Carwile. �The best way to verify authorized FEMA or SBA personnel is by checking their laminated photo identification card, which they are required to wear at all times.�

FEMA logo One fraudulent scheme involves con artists going door-to-door to damaged homes, or phoning victims, and soliciting personal information such as social security and bank account numbers. FEMA inspectors never require this information. A social security or bank account number is requested during the first phone call to the agency�s teleregistration line. On any follow-up calls, a FEMA representative may ask for the last four digits of your social security number. The agency has also received reports of scammers telling homeowners they need to pay $1,500 to be put on a list to get their home repaired. Other reports have surfaced of persons pretending to be from the SBA and offering to fill out disaster loan applications for a $50 fee. Under no circumstances are FEMA or SBA representatives allowed to accept money. FEMA inspectors assess damage but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs.

Galt Mile residents have been receiving telephone calls soliciting business from assorted carpet cleaners, home repair contractors and companies testing for �toxins that may have leeched into your water system� who assert that they will �be in your building� on a particular date. �The Weather Guy� and �Water Safety, Inc.� are unlicensed and not legally incorporated - they are phantoms. Should you be contacted by any of them � or any like them, you might consider hanging up or doing what my daughter does. Ask them to hold on a minute and then continue watching television. The Florida Home Builders Association recommends four intuitive guidelines to prevent being victimized. Homeowners should 1) hire only licensed contractors, 2) insist on a contract, 3) ask for references (preferably from someone you know) and 4) do not pay cash up front - ever. Homeowners can report incidents of price gouging by calling the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Hotline: 800-HELP-FLA (435-7352). Or call (800) 342-5869 - Agriculture Law Enforcement. If ANY fraudulent activity is suspected, please report it to the State Attorney General�s office at 1-866-966-7226. The AG�s price-gouging hotline is 1-800-646-0444. If you get hit...HIT BACK!

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The Impending Insurance Hurricane

Insurance Cyclone October 10, 2004 - The ocean, the sun, soft southern breezes, the beach...relocating to Florida conjures visions of life in paradise. Virtually no one who moves here and few who build here associate their dream with �high risk�. That, incidentally, is how the Galt Mile and the rest of Florida is perceived by insurers and their underwriters. Indigenous catastrophic weather events coupled with attractive retirement demographics are a recipe for �upwardly mobile� insurance rates. Sparring with Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne didn�t help.

Insurers will review their product models to determine whether they adequately anticipated the scope of the hurricane season�s impact. They will also evaluate whether this was an aberration or an ominous preview suggestive of a new, more expensive model. For this, they will look to their reinsurers. Carriers buy reinsurance products to help diffuse the fiscal impact of catastrophes. If these �reinsurers� decide that Florida�s future weather represents a greater risk than in prior years or if they simply misjudged the existing risk, they will increase the cost to their insurance company customers. These insurers, in turn, will endeavor to pass that increase on to you.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher
Before they can do this, they must plead their case before Director
Kevin M. McCarty�s Office of Insurance Regulation. They must convince Florida�s Chief Financial Officer and insurance czar, Tom Gallagher, that they either underestimated their risk or that the meteorological environment in the state has hence deteriorated. Sam Miller, executive vice president for the Florida Insurance Council (an insurance industry trade association), painted several scenarios that carriers may present to Mr. Gallagher. Addressing a possible statewide or regional impact, he said, �If there is going to be significant rate increases on a widespread basis, it will be because the companies can demonstrate to the Office of Insurance Regulation that based on their experiences this year, the rates aren�t quite right. Companies could also reassess what they charge in certain areas, such as southwest and central Florida, and that could drive up prices there.� While acknowledging that insurers will take this opportunity to test Tallahassee�s receptivity to rate hikes, Miller predicted, �We don�t expect major rate increases, major non-renewals and the sort of dislocation or chaos that we saw after Hurricane Andrew.�

Chief economist Dr. Robert P. Hartwig of the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute
Dr. Robert P. Hartwig
Chief economist Dr. Robert P. Hartwig of the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute also addressed the insurance industry�s intentions in view of the season�s catastrophes, �Certainly, events of this magnitude put upward pressure on rates.� He agrees with Miller that despite the $20 billion cost of the 2004 season (so far), the insurance industry should sidestep the calamity they suffered after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Hartwig recalled, �Already, at this point in 1992, you would have heard insurers basically having placed permanent moratoriums on writing new policies and talking about getting out of the state.� Woefully unprepared for Hurricane Andrew, the $22.9 billion (in today�s dollars) juggernaut forced 11 insurers into insolvency and sent 38 others racing to escape the State of Florida - refusing to write policies even for longtime customers. State officials, Insurance Industry watchdogs and legislators are confident that the current season�s events, while threatening to escalate rates, will not portend an industry-wide bale-out of carriers. This somewhat optimistic outlook is credited primarily to the insurance reforms and adjustments instituted by the State of Florida after the Hurricane Andrew debacle.

  Hurricane Andrew �Wake-Up� Call

State Farm Florida In response to the Hurricane Andrew wake-up call, the State of Florida reconstructed insurance policy to better protect the insurance industry from lethal storm losses and the industry developed new techniques to survive the erratic risk of doing business here. Some insurers (i.e. USAA) experimented with insurance securitization, where catastrophe risks are shared in capital markets rather than in the reinsurance markets. Others constructed �financial firewalls� around their Florida businesses to protect the National or International parent in the event that the Florida subsidiary went belly-up. Allstate, for instance, created Allstate Floridian to magically disappear if declared insolvent, protecting the otherwise vulnerable parent from exposure. State Farm developed State Farm Florida under similar auspices.

Allstate Floridian In 1993, the State created the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, a risk pool which provides catastrophe reinsurance for companies writing homeowners insurance policies in Florida. The Fund will pay 90% of Allstate�s losses from Hurricane Charley in excess of $305 million, limiting their hit to $425 million as opposed to the $2.5 billion (1992 dollars) shellacking they took for Andrew. State Farm is expected to pay out $200 million for Charley-related losses, compared with $3.7 billion for comparable losses from Andrew. Other companies such as Nationwide, St. Paul Travelers, CNA, The Hartford, etc. are all expected to land on their feet because of the Fund.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. When government price regulations depressed property insurance rates below their actual costs, insurers began to �cherry pick� customers, covering only low-risk applicants while refusing high-risk properties. In 2002, the Florida Legislature passed a law that combined the Florida Residential Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association (FRPCJUA) and the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association (FWUA). This resulted in the creation of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. (Citizens) to serve the needs of homeowners in high-risk areas and others who cannot find coverage in the open, private insurance market. A serendipitous success story, this state-run insurer of last resort currently protects 800,000 coastal properties rejected by private insurers for full coverage.

Insurers were also permitted to treat clients as partners, requiring deductibles to be a percentage of claims instead of the fixed amount charged before Hurricane Andrew. Some insurers are getting between 2-5 % of windstorm losses, as compared to the less than 1% typical for fire damage. This formula forces consumers to pay a higher percentage of the claims than the pre-Andrew model in which the deductible was a flat amount.

Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund These measures by the State and the Industry have cushioned insurers from the hurricane-borne �capital shocks� that usually precede threatened rate increases. While the recent hurricane slugfest is a challenge to carriers, the damages to date are quite manageable. Referring to the positive environment Florida created for Insurers in the face of catastrophes, Florida CFO Tom Gallagher stated that carriers have told him, �If these kinds of things have to happen, it�s a good thing they happened in Florida.� Office of Insurance Regulation spokesman Bob Lotane indicated that they�re monitoring a �small handful� of companies for potential solvency issues - companies that were under scrutiny before the season. If the storms exacerbated the problems of this small shaky group, the State could be required to place them under supervision and if unsuccessful, under rehabilitation (receivership). If stability and solvency still can�t be achieved, assets would be liquidated to pay claims. Outstanding claims not covered by the company�s assets would be paid by the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association - which is funded by the state�s insurance companies. Insurance Information Institute�s Robert Hartwig discounts any prospect of danger for Florida�s major carriers such as State Farm Florida or Allstate Floridian (no.s 1 and 2).

  Tallahassee Struggle Shaping Up

Ironically, the State has now turned its concern from the well-shielded insurers to property owners and taxpayers. The post-Andrew insurance reforms that revived the deflated Florida insurance market are being re-examined in view of certain long standing inequities that the season�s storms have brought to light. Legislators are preparing for a special session Governor Jeb Bush may call in December to address hurricane-related issues. Property owners saddled with double or triple deductibles, one for each event, have elicited the support of Florida CFO Tom Gallagher. In response, his stated intention is to abolish this �double deductible,� calling it �fundamentally unfair.�

Florida State Representative Randy Johnson
State Representative
Randy Johnson
Florida House Finance and Tax Committee Chair Randy Johnson (R-Celebration) remarked, �It was just a matter of time for these back-to-back disasters to happen and people would have these claims and deductibles they can�t afford. Now we see the error of our ways.� Johnson proposes capping the deductibles homeowners have to pay over a 12-month period, as with a healthcare policy. By way of contribution to the Governor�s special session, Chairman J. Anthony Villamil of the Governor�s Council Of Economic Advisors intends to recommend some type of assistance to help homeowners and small-business owners pay deductible losses.

Industry spokespersons caution against dismantling the reforms that rescued the Florida market after 1992. Property Casualty Insurers Association of America lobbyist William H. Stander threatened, �I don�t think there�s any doubt that if you restrict the use of deductibles, premiums will go up.� Former House Insurance Committee Chair John Cosgrove harbors concerns about the extent to which legislators might pressure the industry, possibly forcing additional carriers out of the shaky windstorm business. To mollify Industry concerns, he recommends that insurers receive additional benefits from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. The reinsurance-style relief offered by the Cat Fund is much cheaper than anything insurers could buy in the private market. Michael Colodny, Citizens Property Insurance Corp.�s general counsel, said some insurers may in fact stop offering windstorm coverage, but not enough to significantly impact consumer�s ability to buy coverage. As the windstorm insurer of last resort, state-run Citizens is the safety net in which the victims of a tightening market would find themselves.

Delray Beach Senator Ron Klein
Florida Senator Ron Klein
Legislators are leery about the Insurance Industry�s intentions and motives. Delray Beach Senator Ron Klein, a longtime insurance industry critic, anticipates a post-Andrew style industry reaction. He warns that insurers will seek to take advantage of this opportunity to further hike rates and decline renewal for thousands of policies, not only for coastal property owners, but across the state. Klein predicted, �They are going to take the position that all of Florida is a high-probability risk.� Legislators know that the case for higher rates goes deeper than the reaction to recent events; insurers were maneuvering for an increase well before the season started.

Susanne Murphy, Citizens� corporate counsel, explained that the Florida Legislature set these increases in motion in 2003. The Legislature directed Citizens to come up with a way of calculating rates following several years of huge windstorm rate hikes. In response, Citizens pegged wind-only policy rates to the highest of the average wind rates charged by the state�s top 20 insurers. In addition to varying from place to place, the new rules don�t give the same generous credits to policyholders who have installed impact windows, roof straps or other measures to increase protection from hurricanes. These new rules apply to policies written or renewed after July 1, 2004, well before the effects of Charley, Frances, Ivan or Jeanne drew the concern of policy holders to potential premium increases.

  New Rules for Condos

A new law, Florida Statute 718.111, will have a unique impact on Condo owners. There has always been a gray area between the Association�s windstorm coverage and the personal property insurance responsibilities of the unit owner. After January 1, 2004, everything from the paint on the walls and ceiling to the tiles on the floor is strictly the insurance responsibility of the condo owner, not the Association. Electrical fixtures, appliances, air conditioners, heaters, water heaters, water filters, kitchen cabinets and countertops, light fixtures and even the ceiling or wall paint damaged by storm-related infiltration - if its not in your personal property policy, you aren�t covered.

Because windstorm coverage is an �as is� proposition due to the absence of competition between insurers, the only option available to Associations to lower their premiums is to increase their deductible. Some Associations have opted for hurricane deductibles of $100,000. This has opened new product lines for insurance companies. Some Associations will have to address damages that amount to less than their $100,000 deductible through assessments. On some personal property policies, there�s now a loss-assessment provision designed to cover the cost of the repairs or to pay the association�s deductible. The new law has opened other liability gaps between the Association and the unit owner. For example, the association may not have to cover a repair of drywall inside a unit damaged due to a leak from association-owned plumbing inside the wall. While the in-wall Association plumbing is clearly not personal property, Insurers are offering �extended protection� provisions to fill the newly opened �coverage gaps�.

One of the few advantages afforded to Condo owners under the new law is the method of determining loss payment. Windstorm coverage for personal property in condo units used to be what�s termed �cash-value coverage�. In settlement of a claim, you received the depreciated value of the item lost, subject to your deductible. This is actually a regressive penalty on those who properly maintain and meticulously service appliances, fixtures, etc. A well maintained 8-year old big screen TV would invoke a payout large enough to buy a new 13 inch Black and White replacement set when based on cash-value coverage. On Citizens windstorm policies that were new or renewed after July 1, 2004, the unit owner can buy - for a higher premium - replacement cost coverage. Replacement cost policies were common before Andrew. As part of the industry�s reformation after 1992, insurers switched to the less costly cash-value coverage. The return of replacement cost coverage, even as an added expense, is more equitable for the insured. Despite the depreciated value of covered damages, the insurance payout would be determined strictly by the cost of a comparable substitute, indexed for inflation.

  Scorecard � What�s Next?

The balancing act that State and local officials will have to perform during the next legislative session promises to be an interesting exercise of enlightened self-interest. Public concern about the season�s insurance impacts has sent bureaucrats scrambling from city hall to Tallahassee. Insurance lobbyists are gearing up for both overt and �under the radar� attacks on premiums, regionally and statewide. Carriers may threaten to abandon certain Florida insurance markets as part of their effort to force the Office of Insurance Regulation to float rates. If that occurs, the State might have to get deeper into the insurance business, expanding the Citizens concept - both in scope and to other threatened insurance areas. Conversely, the State is questioning the need and equity of �double deductibles� and the credibility of the Industry�s claim to deserving higher rates and a bigger taste of the �Cat Fund�.

Ironically, the unanticipated success of Florida�s Hurricane Cat Fund and Citizens has turned some heads in Washington. One of the objections to FEMA is the lack of any incentive to control risk on the part of its beneficiaries. Congress is looking at a national model patterned on the Florida template. A national Cat Fund could establish safety standards as prerequisite to being eligible for benefits - cutting the risk and, in turn, the cost. While governmental attempts at competing with private industry are usually pathetic, Florida�s insurance entries seem to be exemplary. Capitol Hill is considering � if it works here, why not everywhere?

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State Dumps Double Deductible

Governor Jeb Bush calls Special Session to Tackle Emergency Issues
December 15, 2004 - The December 13, 2004 special session of the Florida Legislature called by Governor Bush to tackle the �double deductible� inequity framed by the 4-hurricane season has borne fruit.
Senate Bill S10-A, sponsored by Senators Garcia and Lynn and House Bill H9-A by Representatives Ross, Barreiro, Baxley, Farkas, Harrell, Mayfield and Murzin provides for the Florida Department of Financial Services to reimburse policyholders of residential property insurance for multiple deductibles applied by insurers for two or more hurricanes.

Although the original bills were limited to individual homeowners, intense pressure applied by the Condominium Association Legislative Lobby (CALL) opened the door to Condominium inclusion. The amount of reimbursement to condominium associations will vary depending on each association�s hurricane deductible under their policy and the amount each association paid for hurricane deductibles. While the maximum reimbursement to condominium associations is limited to $3,000 per condominium unit, the State is earmarking $75 million to fund the plan.

Tallahassee fixes the double deductible problem
Special Session in Tallahassee
Filed on December 10th and introduced on December 13th, S10-A was referred to the Senate Banking and Insurance and General Government Appropriations Committees for review. It sailed through Banking and Insurance by a vote of 10 YEAS vs. 0 NAYS on December 14th. The next day it passed General Government Appropriations by a vote of 4 YEAS vs. 0 NAYS. It was placed on the Special Order Calendar for consideration on December 16th and then "laid on the table" after its sister House Bill H9-A was substituted for it. The House Bill H9-A was also filed on December 10th and introduced on December 13th. The bill was referred to the House Insurance Committee, Fiscal Council and Commerce Council. It immediately passed the House Insurance Committee by a 16 YEAS vs. 1 NAY vote. On the 14th, it passed the Fiscal Council by a vote of 20 YEAS vs. 1 NAY. Later that day, it zipped through the Commerce Council by a 10 YEAS vs. 0 NAYS unanimous vote. It was added to the third reading calendar the next day. On December 16th, the bill passed a vote in the House by 115 YEAS vs. 2 NAYS (3 not voting) and the Senate by 38 YEAS vs. 1 NAY (1 Not Voting) and ordered enrolled. It was signed by the officers on December 21st before being presented to and signed by the Governor.

To read the text of the enrolled version of the new law, Click Here!

The 2004 hurricane season has been particularly destructive for Florida, with Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne causing extensive damage throughout the state. According to the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), as of December 2, 2004, insurance companies have reported over 1.5 million property insurance claims for all four hurricanes and $10.5 billion in total claims payments. The companies estimate that the total expected gross property loss will reach $20.8 billion.

Allstate Floridian
Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher
Insurance companies and the State spent the last four months jockeying for position in an anticipated clash over the fiscal impacts of the catastrophic season. Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher publicly disparaged Florida insurance policy for permitting insurance carriers to charge several deductibles for damages incurred by serial weather events. In turn, Allstate Insurance stopped writing new homeowners� policies in 17 Florida counties brutalized by the weather. In counties that were not hit as hard, it is only writing renters� policies and homeowners' policies minus wind coverage. The special session is the State�s first volley in what appears to be maneuvering on both sides to protect themselves from overreaction by the other.

As such, the legislation will fulfill a commitment that Mr. Gallagher made during the hurricane season to abolish the multiple deductible, characterizing it as fundamentally unfair. This proactive legislation serves as a useful plank from which Mr. Gallagher can launch a 2006 gubernatorial campaign. The field will likely include, among others, fellow cabinet member and Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Residential hurricane deductibles are typically 2 percent of policy limits and may generally be as high as 5 percent of policy limits, or even higher for certain policies. However, $500 hurricane deductibles are still prevalent for homes and mobile homes valued under $100,000. The deductible applies to each hurricane, which can result in significant out-of-pocket expense to many policyholders. In many cases of multiple hurricane claims, according to a survey of insurers by OIR, the insurer waived application of multiple deductibles. Sourcing the survey results and attempting to account for missing information, the Legislative committee staff estimated that about 36,000 policies had multiple deductibles applied and that the cost to policyholders of second and subsequent deductibles may total about $70 million. While this estimate apparently includes only policies for which insurers paid two or more claims and deducted the full amount of the deductible, it does not include �no payment� claims below the deductible or claims not reported to the insurer.

Click to Department of Financial Services The bills require the Department of Financial Services to reimburse residential and commercial policyholders for the financial loss due to the insurer applying multiple hurricane deductibles under the following specified conditions and limitations:

  • A policyholder must have incurred damage in excess of the full amount of one deductible (which may be met by adding two or more claims below the deductible).
  • Maximum reimbursement of $10,000 per policy, or $20,000 per policy if damaged by three or more hurricanes.
  • Maximum reimbursement for a condominium association policy in amount up to $3,000 per unit.
  • $100 deductible applied to the reimbursement.
  • Applications for reimbursement must be filed with the department by March 1, 2005, including such information as the department requires to verify the claim, including documentation from the insurer.
  • Applications for reimbursement are subject to insurance fraud penalties.
  • Insurers must mail notice of the reimbursement procedures to policyholders who had more than one hurricane deductible applied.
  • Total amount paid to all policyholders is limited to the amount appropriated. Department of Financial Services must first pay policyholders who received claims payments for two or more hurricanes for which each payment was reduced by the full amount of the deductible. All other eligible policyholders would be paid on a pro rata basis if funding is inadequate to pay everyone in full.
  • Up to $150 million is transferred from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (FHCF) to the department�s Insurance Regulatory Trust Fund and appropriated for reimbursement. In order to maintain actuarially indicated premiums, the State Board of Administration must increase future premiums to insurers for FHCF coverage over 5-year period.

Click to Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund The bill also requires residential property insurers to apply future hurricane deductibles on an annual basis to all hurricanes that occur during the calendar year. The annual deductible applies to losses that are covered under one or more policies issued by the same insurer or an insurer in the same insurer group. However, insurers may apply the �other perils� deductible, or the remaining amount of the hurricane deductible, whichever is greater, to subsequent hurricane losses. Insurers may require policyholders to report claims below their deductible and to maintain records or receipts in order to apply the loss to a subsequent hurricane. If a policyholder has a hurricane loss and then changes the hurricane deductible, the highest deductible applies. These requirements apply to policies issued or renewed on or after May 1, 2005.

For condominium unit owner policies (which generally cover only the contents, wall and floor coverings, and appliances), most policies (54.7 percent) have a deductible of $500 or less, and most of the rest (40.7 percent) have 2 percent deductible policies. Less than 1 percent of condominium unit owners have a percentage deductible greater than 2 percent (see table below). While 54.7% of the Condo owners are exposed to �multiple deductible jeopardy� of $1000 to $2000 (2 to 4 deductibles @ $500 each), the 40.7% that carry 2% deductibles on average properties of $103,916 have exposures of $4156.64 to $8313.28. The real pain is felt by the 0.3% of Condo policy holders that carry 15% or more on properties averaging $438,058. Their double through quadruple deductible exposure is from $131,417 to $262,835 and higher! While the $3000 maximum reimbursement should �make whole� more than half the Condo policy holders victimized by the deductible inequity, the rest could be significantly assisted by these bills. Of course, the $3000 reimbursement will only marginally buffer the one half of one percent of policy holders that have �special� deductible requirements of 15% or higher.

On January 6th, CFO Gallagher announced that the �Multiple Deductible Reimbursement Program� assistance be paid first to Floridians who paid two or more full deductibles, followed by those who paid part of a second or third deductible. Gallagher explained, �The program to provide these storm victims financial relief is now up and running and applications to eligible individuals will soon arrive in thousands of mailboxes across the state. I encourage those who are eligible to submit their applications as soon as possible so that we can get them the financial assistance they need to start rebuilding. Policyholders will receive an application from their insurance company by mail along with information needed to complete the application.� He advised that if the application packet does not arrive by January 27, 2005, then the policyholder should call the Department of Financial Services at 1-800-22 STORM for guidance.

  Current Hurricane Deductibles for Condominium Unit Owner Policies

Deductible Amount # of
Condo Units
% of
Condo Units
Average Insured Value
$1 to $500 381,339 54.7%   $74,763 
$501 to $1,500   24,190  3.5% $103,349
$1,501 to $2,500     1,801   0.3%  $147,761
2% 283,776 40.7% $103,916
5%     3,285   0.5%  $306,922
15% or greater     2,306   0.3%  $438,058
Other deductibles     1,025   0.2%   
Total 697,722 100%  

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Hurricanecity (Info for Cities Threatened by Atlantic Hurricanes)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)�s National Hurricane Program

The Florida Division of Emergency Management

The Florida Division of Emergency Management�s Hurricane Page

American Red Cross � Hurricane Readiness

University of Michigan Weather � WeatherSites



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