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University of Hawai’i Sea Grant Helps Coastal Communities Prepare for Hazards

By Dennis Hwang of University of Hawai'i Sea Grant

In December of 2004, a devastating tsunami hit the coast of Indonesia. Coastal communities around the world were forcibly reminded of their vulnerability. In the aftermath, as rebuilding efforts started, interest grew in the Hawai'i Coastal Hazard Mitigation Guidebook, written in January 2005 by Dennis Hwang, Coastal Hazard Mitigation Specialist at University of Hawai'i Sea Grant. The Guidebook, which took three years to develop, was meant to address the lack of widely publicized, reliable guidance for building along the coast to reduce vulnerability. It was intended for coastal planners, landowners and landscape architects, and explains and illustrates how to reduce the risk of natural hazards in the development process using a flexible implementation approach. A short 8 months after the tsunami, just 7 months after the initial publication of the guidebook, Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf of Mexico states in August of 2005, and further emphasized the importance of preparing for large scale natural hazards. Follow up Guidebooks were produced for both Indonesia and Louisiana. In 2009, the County of Kauai, in Hawai'i incorporated guidance from the Hawai'i Guidebook into a new scientifically based Shoreline Setback Ordinance.Two years later, the State of Hawai'i incorporated the same guidance into their Conservation Rules.

The wide spread popularity of the Guidebook lead to the creation of a community specific Homeowner's Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards in 2007, co-authored by Dennis Hwang and Darren K. Okimoto of the University of Hawai'i Sea Grant. The handbook targets the average homeowner and is based on three main principles: (1) make it easy to read and understandable to the average homeowner, with pictures and step-by-step instruction; (2) educate and inform the homeowner of hazard risk in their area, because homeowners won't act unless they believe there is a chance that a hazard can happen; and (3) offer as many options or solutions to the homeowner as possible that are relevant, reasonable and cost effective, even providing options the homeowner can do themselves after consulting with a licensed professional. Essentially, the Handbook does as much homework for the homeowner as possible.

Since 2007, the Hawai'i Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards has gone through 8 print runs with over 65,000 copies. In addition the handbook has been adapted by 7 other Sea Grant programs, providing assistance to homeowners in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, MassachusettsMississippi, and Texas. The success of the Handbook is due in large part to the partnerships that helped to create it including NOAA, state and local governments, emergency management agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private industry. A key partner has also been FEMA and its Building Science Branch which provided technical assistance for Hawai’i and other state Handbooks.  All of the partners have been involved in updates ensuring reliability for the homeowners who use it.

Creating the Handbook would not have been enough; it could only be successful if homeowners know about it. The Handbook has been delivered to churches, neighborhood boards, senior groups, businesses, service clubs, building inspectors, insurance agents and many more.Recently, outreach has extended to emergency first responders. As a result of these outreach efforts, Hawai’i Sea Grant was awarded the 2013 Dr. Arthur Chiu Engineering Award by the Hawaii State Civil Defense for its role in preparing the public. Vice Director of State Civil Defense, Doug Mayne stated that “ the Handbook is by far their most popular handout,” and that “it serves as an exemplary model of how to build community resilience.

Currently, the Handbook is in preparation for the first international version with theNOAA Coastal Storms Program and the College of the Marshall Islands. Several other locations including Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Republic of Palau are interested in developing their own versions of the Handbook, helping homeowners around the country and world stay as safe as possible.

For more information on the Coastal Hazard Mitigation Guidebook or Homeowner’s Handbook, please go to the following sites:

Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards:



Alabama Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards

Delaware Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards




Florida Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards

Hawaii Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards

Louisiana Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards

Massachusetts Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards



Mississippi Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards

Texas Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards

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