Is America Ready? - The Personal Perspective

Is America Ready? – The Personal Perspective

July 3, 2018

July 2, 2018- In May we released our preliminary findings from our third annual domestic poll, which asked Americans about their concerns and plans regarding disasters. The analysis of these results helps us gauge national attitudes and levels of preparedness.

We were eager to see both the nationally aggregated findings, which give an impression of America’s views on disasters and preparedness, and the data broken down by groups such as geographical region or income bracket, and education level. As FEMA states, “inclusive planning is needed”. It is just as vital for those researching and influencing disaster relief and response policy to understand population-specific attitudes as national ones. To support this, I will be sharing thoughts on the findings in this blog as part of a short series, where I first look at national trends and then delve into specific population breakdowns. 

Maintaining a now three-year trend, Americans reported the most concern over natural disasters. In fact, the percentage of Americans who listed ‘natural disaster’ as their disaster of greatest concern was higher than those who listed disease outbreaks, environmental disasters (such as oil spills), and terrorist attacks combined. And only 15% of Americans report that they aren’t worried about a disaster at all. Overall, we would like to see an equally large percentage of Americans matching that concern by making emergency plans and taking preparedness actions. Since they aren’t, we want to investigate the barriers that are keeping people from acting. Accordingly, we included several questions in our poll regarding planning and preparation for disasters. Below I’ve grouped our findings into sections I’ve found helpful for understanding larger trends.  

  • Emergency Plans: Only 53% of Americans reported that they have an emergency plan in place for themselves and their families. While that means there is some action being taken, the percentage of those who report they have an emergency plan in place isn’t anywhere close to the 85% of people who report concern regarding a disaster. FEMA encourages emergency alerts, shelter, evacuation, and communication to be part of a comprehensive emergency plan.  


  • Preparedness Actions: There are individual actions that many disaster preparedness organizations suggest as well. We asked about three of those actions in our poll: keeping emergency cash on-hand, keeping an emergency go bag of supplies ready, and keeping a copy of medical records in a safe place. The most popular action, with 44% of our respondents reporting that they already do it, was keeping cash in case of emergency. While it is important to keep cash on-hand for an emergency (you never know what you may end up needing and everyone will take cash), the fact that keeping emergency cash is the best and most commonly recommended way to prepare for an emergency concerns me. Not everyone has the resources to set cash aside; for example, those with lower annual incomes. I expand on this point with further analysis, possible considerations, and potential solutions which I will share soon in future blogs.


  • Medication Reliance: During disaster response and recovery, one of the biggest issues for patients is the ability to obtain their regular medications and medical equipment. A quarter of Americans report that after only three (3) days they would be suffering serious effects from going without their regular medications or being away from their medical equipment. After a week, 37% of Americans would be feeling those serious effects.


A horizontal bar graph, sectioned with multiple shades of blue, labeled with percentages, and entitled: Percentage Timeline of Serious Affects After Going without Prescriptions. Each color represents the percentage of people who chose the labeled time period as how long they could go without their prescription. The length of the bar at any one point indicates the cumulative total.

Only 35% of Americans could list all of their necessary prescription information (prescribing doctor, name of medication/equipment, dosage) from memory. Yet, when asked if they would keep a copy of their medical records safe in case of emergency, only one third of Americans said they already do and close to another third (30%) said they were unlikely to do so in the future. That leaves almost half (40%, with another 25% not needing medications) of Americans missing some amount of vital health information in emergency situations.     

  • Resource Confidence: We asked if people believed that the state and federal agencies that are responsible for disaster preparation, response, and recovery had enough funding for their operations. Only a third of Americans agreed that state agencies had enough funding, and less than a third agreed that federal agencies had enough funding. It is possible that people may be conflating a need for more funding with a need for a better use of those funds. However, if less than a third of Americans believe that an agency has the resources it takes to properly prepare, respond, and help communities recover from disasters then those agencies should address that issue in the future to meet the expectations of the communities they serve.

Further, as someone who recently took the plunge into the very deep waters of scaled disaster response, I’ve learned that often communities will look to local organizations for preparation and assistance. When we asked whether local community organizations had enough resources to respond to disasters, a little over a third of Americans said they agreed that they did. This may indicate that the more familiar communities are with an organization; the more people have confidence that it has the resources to deal with a disaster.  

It is clear from our poll that Americans are worried about disasters, yet we aren’t preparing for them sufficiently. Individual attitudes can make all the difference in community resilience before and after a disaster. Using what we’ve learned from the poll we can guess that most Americans are primed to prepare for disasters, the concern about disasters is there, but there’s something holding them back from preparing. As educational efforts surrounding preparedness are already reasonably strong, I believe that we need to take a second look at exactly how we are communicating with individual communities. Is the disaster literature community specific, and does it take into account the resource availabilities of that community? In future blogs I will take a look at what groups may need more individualized suggestions and education, and how we as preparedness researchers can help both educators and response teams to create a system that serves everyone.   


Adrienne Baez

Adrienne is an experienced advocate for vulnerable populations at both the grassroots and policy level. Her most recent work has involved creating and sharing research used to inform policy and community stakeholders about the changing needs of minority communities. As an active member of several advocacy communities, she has been invited by non-profit organizations to speak on self-preparedness, health-education, and youth independence. Trained as a behavioral researcher, her area of focus was the connection between patient communities and healthcare providers. She has worked as a project research associate for various non-profit organizations and the department of defense.