FEMA Issues Report on Personal Preparedness in America

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released a new report titled Personal Preparedness in America: Findings from the 2009 Citizen Corps National Survey that offers data on the public’s thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors related to preparedness and community safety for multiple types of hazards. FEMA says the report's findings are particularly relevant as the nation prepares for a possible pandemic flu outbreak, hurricane season, and other hazards.

Results from the national survey have important implications for the development of more effective communication and outreach strategies to achieve greater levels of preparedness and participation, the agency says. For example, the results indicate that 30 percent of Americans have not prepared because they think that emergency responders will help them and that more than 60 percent expect to rely on emergency responders in the first 72 hours following a disaster. While government will execute its functions, communications to the public should convey a more realistic understanding of emergency response capacity and emphasize the importance of self-reliance. FEMA concludes that messaging should thus speak to a shared responsibility and stress that everyone has a role to play in preparedness and response.

The survey also found that many people who report being prepared have not completed important preparedness activities or do not have a sound understanding of community plans. Of those who perceived themselves to be prepared, 36 percent did not have a household plan, 78 percent had not conducted a home evacuation drill, and 58 percent did not know their community’s evacuation routes.

Fourteen percent of respondents reported having a physical or other disability that would affect their capacity to respond to an emergency situation. Alarmingly, however, few individuals with disabilities had taken specific actions to help them respond safely in the event of an emergency, the study found. Only 27 percent had taken a CPR or first aid training and less than half (47 percent) had a household plan. Another 14 percent of survey participants indicated they lived with and/or cared for someone with a physical or other disability. Of these individuals, less than 40 percent reported taking a CPR or first aid training (36 percent and 39 percent respectively) and 53 had supplies set aside in their home.

The report notes that practicing response protocols is critical for effective execution; this is true for emergency responders and true for the public. Fewer than half the surveyed individuals (41 percent) had practiced a workplace evacuation drill, only 14 percent had participated in a home evacuation drill, and of those in school and/or with children in school, only 23 percent had participated in a school evacuation drill. And the numbers are much lower for shelter in place drills (27 percent, 10 percent, and 13 percent respectively). Drills and exercises for multiple hazards and multiple locations need to be conducted through social networks, the study found. In addition, community members need to be included more effectively in government-sponsored community exercises.

The survey results indicate that individuals’ perceived utility of preparing and their confidence in their ability to respond varies significantly by disaster type. Only 7 percent of individuals felt that nothing they did would help them handle a natural disaster, whereas 35 percent felt nothing they did would help them in an act of terrorism, such as a biological, chemical, radiological, or explosive attack. All-hazards terminology may mask important nuances relative to conveying personal preparedness guidance for specific hazards. The report thus says it is important to emphasize the survivability of manmade disasters and the relevant protective measures for these hazards.

The report notes that national leaders must be strong advocates for personal preparedness, but adds it is clear that messages specific to individual preparedness must include critical local information, such as information on local hazards, local alerts and warnings, and local community response protocols. Local social networks must also be used to support outreach and education on personal preparedness, such as neighborhoods, the workplace, schools, and faith communities. And the concepts of mutual support at the local, neighborhood level should be emphasized.

To read the survey report, go to www.citizencorps.gov/ready/2009findings.shtm.

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