Will Miller has been through enough hurricane seasons to know too many people wait too long to prepare for a storm.
"Nobody cares about disaster preparedness until after it happens," said Miller, a retired Navy commander and Rotary International District 6950 senior adviser of Rotary's Disaster Preparedness and Response Committee.
Miller was one of the speakers at the 11th annual TAD (The American Dream) conference Wednesday at Zephyrhills City Hall, where community leaders shared practical advice for residents and business owners to protect themselves in the face of a natural disaster.
"Having a plan relieves panic and uncertainty," Miller said.
He encouraged residents to know which evacuation routes they might use, and to take a few easy steps to safeguard their homes and offices. Among his suggestions:
• Identify the safest room to be during a tropical storm, such as a bathroom with no windows. Or consider building a safe room: "FEMA has a plan for a welded steel safe room you can build yourself," Miller said.
• Buy a Hurricane Harness, or a type of strapping system, to help secure the roof during a storm.
• Make sure you have a sturdy garage door to prevent strong winds or debris from blasting through.
• Keep electronics plugged into surge protectors.
• Create backups of any important computer files.
• Make sure your disaster kit includes a weather radio and enough bottled water for each person to have a gallon of water per day.
And though they may not realize it, Miller said, most folks probably have the perfect "water resistant document storage vaults at home."
"Put the documents in Ziploc bags and store them in the dishwasher," he said.
Each guest at the TAD conference received free samples of disaster supplies provided by the Salvation Army. Each got a complete family hygiene kit that contained towels, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner, razors and combs; as well as a self-heating boxed dinner.
Kevin Smith, the Salvation Army of Florida's emergency disaster services director, said the agency has numerous disaster relief vehicles, ranging from mobile kitchens and hydration units to shower and first aid style units.
"The Salvation Army is involved in all four phases of disaster preparedness," he said. "Mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery."
But officials agreed residents must do their part — before a storm bears down.
"Today is all about how to prepare," said Bob Loring, executive director of Toys for Tots East Pasco and coordinator of the TAD conference.