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.
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.
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.