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Representatives from the Florida National Guard 
Representatives from the Florida National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard monitor the oil spill disaster and participate in planning and operations from the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, Fla., May 13, 2010. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Blair Heusdens)
By Sgt. Carmen Gibson, Florida National Guard 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill making headlines and hurricane season just around the corner, Florida emergency management professionals say they are ready to handle any disasters this year.

Each year, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Florida National Guard and a host of other state agencies participate in training exercises, meetings and conferences to prepare for the worst case scenario.

Whether they are planning for a particularly active hurricane season, an environmental disaster, or another destructive force, Florida’s emergency responders are ready for any potential threat.

“Our motto is to pray and hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,” said Capt. Butler Strain, National Guard liaison officer to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

When the State Emergency Operations Center is activated, Strain becomes the emergency coordinating officer for the state’s emergency support function (ESF) 13, Military Affairs.

Recently, the state has been monitoring the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. An impact to any part of the Florida coast could trigger the support of National Guard forces as needed.

As of May 18, six Florida Army National Guard Soldiers were supporting the incident response by serving as liaisons in incident command centers in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. Also, members of the Florida Air National Guard’s 601st Air Operations Group were supporting 1st Air Force response efforts in Louisiana.

In the event that this disaster proves catastrophic, up to 2,500 Florida National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have been approved by the federal government and may be activated to provide additional aid and clean-up support around the state.

Florida National Guard officials said they are ready to support any state emergency at the direction of the governor and the State Emergency Response Team.

Although Florida’s coastline has had minimal impact from the oil spill disaster, division representatives continue planning and preparing for the worst.

Earlier this year, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and other state agencies conducted a full-scale communications exercise called Operation Radar. This exercise tested the communications abilities of all the agencies and provided an idea of how the different agencies could improve their ability to work together.

Throughout the exercise, the separate divisions were able to communicate more effectively with the help of the Florida National Guard.