With Hurricane season upon us, now is the time for homeowners to start making necessary preparations to protect their homes and loved ones by taking action and implementing steps that could significantly lower their vulnerability. When it comes to natural disasters, Florida — with hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, wildfires and flooding — certainly has more than its share. That’s good reason for Floridians to spend a bit of time planning for such emergencies.

The 2013 hurricane season (June 1- November 30) looks to be very active. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center has issued an Atlantic hurricane forecast that calls for 13 to 20 named storms, including 7 to 11 hurricanes of which 3-6 could be major hurricanes. With recent storms in Florida, including Hurricanes Frances, Charlie and Wilma, and the flooding from Tropical Storms Debby and Isaac in 2012, still in Floridians’ memory, preparing beforehand for a natural hazard has become even more important for residents of vulnerable areas.

The Florida Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Disasters explains the forces of nature that act on structures during storms, including the dangers associated with high winds, heavy rain and storm surge. It also describes threats from wildfires. It lays out relatively easy things homeowners can do and ways to minimize or negate the effects of natural disasters, as well as information on how to reduce the human toll exacted by dangerous storms and wildfires.

The Florida handbook was produced with the help of state, regional, national and private partners. A Tallahassee-based natural resources consultant, Lampl-Herbert Consultants, took the lead in managing the fast–tracked project with assistance from Florida’s representative on the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Coastal Community Resilience Team. Mike Spranger, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor in family, youth and community sciences, worked with colleagues in Florida to adapt the handbook for Floridians, completing the text and getting the Handbooks printed. Florida Sea Grant staff was also essential in updating and adding sections.

The handbook was funded through the GOMA Resilience Team, which aims to see each Gulf state prepare its own guidelines for coastal residents in their state. Florida is the final state of the five Gulf coast states to complete a handbook. The handbooks were identified as an action item task in the Gulf of Mexico Alliance’s Governors’ Action Plan II for Healthy and Resilient Coasts.

The goal of the project is to help build a more resilient coast by getting important information into the hands of homeowners. There are tips and information specific to Florida residents for preparing evacuation plans and kits, construction practices, retrofitting, shutter styles, insurance information and emergency contact numbers. The handbook has suggestions covering details such as keeping spare cash handy in case ATMs aren’t working, hanging onto at least one hardwire telephone in case cellular service goes out, keeping your gas tank full, and specific ways to shore up your windows, doors and garage doors. Also included are reminders to have a plan for pets since most emergency shelters won’t accept them; keep prescriptions filled, having copies of important documents such as birth records, insurance policies, and descriptions and photos of home valuables in a waterproof box or folder.

The Florida Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards is free and available in PDF format online at http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/disaster_prep/ and on the StormSmart Coasts Florida page at http://fl.stormsmart.org/florida-homeowners-handbook/. Limited free hard copies will be available at some coastal county extension and emergency management offices.

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About the Gulf of Mexico Alliance: The Gulf of Mexico Alliance is a partnership of the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, with the goal of significantly increasing regional collaboration to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The Alliance encourages collaboration among government agencies, businesses, education providers and non-governmental organizations. Priority issues addressed by the Alliance include water quality, habitat conservation, ecosystem assessment, nutrient impacts, community resilience and environmental education. To learn more about the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, visit www.gulfofmexicoalliance.org.