The Missing Piece in the Preparedness Puzzle
Statistics don’t lie and they point to the fact that Americans are not personally prepared for a disaster.
According to a recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) survey, over 80% of the population in the United States currently live in a county that has been directly impacted by a weather-related disaster since 2007. With an estimated 320million people currently residing in the U.S., that means, according to the available information, a staggering 256million of them live in counties directly impacted by a natural disaster in the last decade alone. Despite this startling number, survey information indicates that less than 40% of Americans have practiced what to do in a disaster over the past year. That figure is consistent with the number of families who have developed or maintained a disaster plan over the past year; also registering at less than 40%. Why are these numbers so low and what if anything is being done to increase them?
Despite enormous outreach efforts at the Federal, state, and local levels focused on adults as well as school-age children, the available survey information indicates individuals are simply not committed to their own personal preparedness. Unfortunately for those tasked with the mission of promoting the concept of personal preparedness, research has indicated people generally lack the ability to properly perceive their own risk. It is not until an event takes place that the realization one is not prepared sinks in, and by that time it is usually too late.
Examples of this type of attitude has been identified and documented in historical accounts of numerous past disasters. There were instances of individuals in New Orleans who chose not to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina despite numerous warnings and orders to do so thinking they would be safe simply waiting out the storm. Reasons for this behavior varied from one individual to another, but the end result was often the same. Other examples include families who choose to live, and in many cases rebuild their homes, in areas prone to to almost annual flooding event. How can those responsible for public health and safety impact individual behavior on a broad scale?
While true change is slow, all is not lost. Relatively recent changes at federal agencies like FEMA demonstrate the potential of an almost untapped resource to date; social media. This form of communication has proven to be especially strong in younger generations, which is the age group where most the desired changes would have the longer-term effects. If government outreach regarding individual and community preparedness is to be successful and taken seriously, departments and agencies will need to learn to communicate through non-traditional mediums, to non-traditional audiences. There is no better time than now to begin.