A Closer Look at Attitudes Towards Preparedness

July 7, 2017

July 7, 2017 - Earlier this summer, we released the high-level findings from our annual nationwide poll on public attitudes towards preparedness. These high-level findings highlighted aggregate national public opinions and knowledge, and were certainly thought provoking. However, these findings are not the whole story, as they say.

Just as we did last year, we were eager to dig into the data and examine if and how people’s attitudes towards preparedness change by demographics such as age, race/ethnicity, and location. Given that “all disasters are local,” understanding local communities’ attitudes towards preparedness is just as important for planners and policymakers as understanding national attitudes.

Like any policy researcher would be, I was even more excited to examine this year’s data because we now have year-over-year data for several topic areas. The points below highlight both new findings in these topic areas as well as findings within demographics that have changed.

  • Most concerning disasters: A majority of Americans are more concerned about a natural disaster affecting their community than any other disaster, with 34% of Americans citing natural disasters as the event they are most concerned about impacting their community. This percentage was more than terrorism, cyber-attacks, and global pandemics combined.

Similar to last year’s findings, the concern for natural disaster trends upwards with age. 36% of 35 - 54 year olds and 40% of people 55 and up being most concerned about a natural disaster affecting their community, compared to 24% of 18 - 34 year olds being most concerned about a natural disaster (4% higher than the results from last year). This could be a result of older populations needing more access to medication and medical care.

The percentage of Americans in the South that are most concerned with a natural disaster affecting their community (45%) is unsurprisingly markedly higher compared to the total population (34%) and other regions (31% in the Midwest, 22% of Northeast and 30% of the West). The least concerning event in all regions is of an outbreak of an exotic disease, such as Ebola, with the highest concern in the Northeast and West (at 5%) and lowest in the South (3%) and the Midwest (1%). On the heels of Ebola and in the midst of Zika, these relatively low levels of concern are thought provoking.

Among those most concerned about a terrorist attack, the proportion of Hispanics is higher (18%, compared to 13% of Whites, 17% of Blacks, 23% other, and 15% of the general American population). While this percentage is lower than last year’s 24%, the year over year trend of Hispanic populations indicating greater concern for a terrorist attack is notable.

  • Emergency Evacuation Plans: Results this year revealed that 28% of Americans indicate they do not have a plan in place if an emergency was to occur, although this is something they are genuinely concerned about, while 25% of Americans (who also have no plan in place) claim they are not concerned. Taken together, these represent an increase in the percentage of families that do not have an emergency evacuation plan in place, with last year’s percentage at 47%.

Regional differences this year included 43% and 42% of those in the South and West, respectively, having a plan in place, compared to the 31% and 33% of those in the Midwest and Northeast, respectively. In terms of race, 47% of Black families, compared to 56% of White and 50% of Hispanic families, do not have an emergency plan in place.

In our line of work, we talk about ‘community resilience’ a lot. This term can mean different things to different people, but our poll and these findings always underscore for me that peoples’ attitudes are an important component of resilience. Knowing the threats and vulnerabilities of a community’s infrastructure is only one part of building resilience. Knowing and incorporating community attitudes and awareness is an equally important part.

One blog entry couldn’t cover all of the topics our poll surveyed this year. Next week, we’re diving deeper into data from this year’s poll on perceptions of responsibility for preparing communities.

Sarah Baker

Sarah Baker is a Program Associate at Healthcare Ready. In this capacity, she provides a wide range of policy research, writing, and analytical support to the organization's preparedness initiatives.

Prior to joining Healthcare Ready, Sarah served as a consultant to the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of private sector organizations, during which time she supported the design, conduct, and evaluation of scores of preparedness exercises.

Sarah recently received her Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and holds a B.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame.