US Household Emergency Preparedness: A Status Report
New survey data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) demonstrate many US households should increase their level of disaster and emergency preparedness. Improving Americans’ ability to cope in times of crisis can help reduce the strain on emergency service and healthcare systems. Being prepared at the household level also helps instill confidence in individuals that basic survival needs will be met when the unexpected occurs.
CDC data from 14 states over the 2006-2010 time period were reported in the September 14, 2012 MMWR report, and are summarized below.
|Emergency Preparedness Measure||Percentage of Households Prepared|
|Working battery-operated flashlight||94.8|
|Working battery-operated radio||77.7|
|3-day supply of prescription medicines||89.7|
|3-day supply of food||82.9|
|3-day supply of water||53.6|
|Written evacuation plan||21.1|
Our State of Preparedness
To their credit, the vast majority of US households maintain a battery-operated flashlight and a three-day supply of prescription medicines. Relatively high percentages keep a three-day supply of food and a working battery-operated radio. However, only slightly greater than half of households surveyed keep a three-day supply of water. Because human beings cannot live more than three to five days without water, that statistic highlights a significant shortcoming in the state of US household emergency preparedness. Also troubling is the finding that slightly more than one in five households have written evacuation plans.
The data show experience with emergencies is an effective teacher. Of respondents in 14 states, those from Louisiana, a state devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, were most likely to report storing a three-day supply of water (67.1%) and a written evacuation plan (54%). According to CDC, the survey confirmed previous studies that generally indicate increased preparedness among men, English-speaking persons and adults with more education. Targeting effective communication to less prepared groups should be a priority.
Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.