Maybe preparedness is unnatural.
Last night I spent more time than I should have listening to traumatized New Zealander’s calling into a Christchurch news radio station to talk about the earthquake. Eighty percent of the city has no water; half the city is without power; water treatment facilities are not working; liquefaction, flooding and slime fill the streets and ruined buildings.
I was struck by two recurring themes.
The first was the power of the text message. Callers referred to sending and receiving text messages the way people (5 years ago) spoke about making phone calls. It’s just something you do. [Seethis graphic and this series of links related to the earthquake and social media from FEMA.]
The second theme was preparedness.
I stopped counting the number of people who called the radio station to ask where they could get water, food, power, cash, medications and other supplies. One person called to find out where to get goat’s milk for a one-year old baby.
I have no clue how many of the 365,000 people in Christchurch were prepared for the earthquake.
I think I have a better idea about preparedness in this country.
Last August, FEMA Director Fugate told a Red Cross Conference about a survey that found: “…only half of Americans have put together an emergency kit, and less than half – only 40 percent – have created a family emergency plan.”
A colleague looked at some of the preparedness literature last year and wrote:
The first [Citizen Corps] survey, conducted in 2003, was designed to provide a baseline on family and community preparedness. In 2007, a follow up survey was conducted to measure movement toward a national goal of strong community and personal preparedness. The 2007 survey results were not positive. In 2003, 50 percent of the respondents reported having emergency supplies set aside in their home to be used only during disaster. In 2007, the number of positive responses crept up to 53 percent. In 2003, 58 percents of the respondents reported having a household emergency plan; in 2007, the number dropped a startling 16 percent to 42 percent.
A recent survey conducted by the American Red Cross indicates that while approximately 80% of Americans have taken some step to become better prepared, only 12% are prepared to a reasonable level.
A survey conducted by the Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response asked questions designed to determine if respondents’ preparedness actions agreed with their assumed levels of preparedness. Approximately 50 percent of the survey respondents indicated they had an emergency preparedness kit; however, when asked what was in the kit, the number of respondents with fully stocked kits dropped to about 33 percent.
Another survey conducted at a state emergency management agency of its employees produced a similar result. Forty-six respondents indicated they had a family emergency plan; when asked if it was written down, the number dropped to 15 percent. Their initial statement about their level of preparedness, in this case a plan, was not supported by action.
The result of this apparent disconnect is that people may believe they are more prepared than they are. As a result, they are even less motivated to take additional preparedness actions, viewing them as unnecessary since, “I already have a kit and a plan.” The kit or the plan, may of course, be partially or entirely inadequate.
Why aren’t people better prepared? It’s a tediously repetitive question.
As with previous surveys, respondents were queried about known barriers such as lack of concern, time, money or knowledge about what actions to take. A significant number of respondents (62 percent) cite money as a reason for why they have not adequately prepared. Less than half of the respondents (37 percent) cite lack of time as a reason for inadequate preparedness and 44 percent say lack of knowledge on what to do to prepare hinders their efforts. Approximately one-half of the respondents simply do not think disaster is very likely and 45 percent have not thought about it much either way.
Other barriers include unwillingness to abandon pets, the belief that nothing they can do will affect the outcome, lack of confidence in government response and … the belief that their preparedness level is acceptable for perceived threat.
When emergency management workers [referred to above] were asked “Why haven’t you prepared a written family emergency plan,” … 97 percent either indicated they just had not done it (77 percent) or they did not think it was necessary (20 percent). When asked why they had not prepared an emergency kit,  percent responded that they just had not done it and another 28 percent that they did not think it necessary.
This survey pool is comprised of emergency management professionals who, one could logically argue, should be among the best prepared in society.
We now switch to Costa Rica and this story from a colleague, Andrew Phelps, who works for New Mexico’s department of homeland security and emergency management (at the time Andrew told me about this program, Bill Richardson was the governor, and John Wheeler was the Agency Secretary; currently, Susana Martinez is New Mexico’s governor, and Michael Duvall is the Secretary of the Agency):
I was in Costa Rica addressing Costa Rican police senior leadership on all-hazards planning, Emergency Operations Center management, and Incident Command. During one of the meetings, they were talking about an initiative to give families emergency supply kits if they wrote a family emergency plan. When I returned to New Mexico, I floated the idea to our leadership who asked me to find a way to deliver the program to schools. I was given a budget of about $500k to order the packs and developed the materials, using publications from FEMA and Arizona as guidance.
I tested the materials out with my daughter, a second grader, and with some spelling help she was able to fill in the plan template, and that is the plan we currently use for our family.
By the end of [the 2010-2011] school year, we hope to have distributed emergency kits and the program materials (as well as a 30-minute age-appropriate emergency preparedness presentation developed for this program and delivered to each school participating in the program, typically presented by the local emergency manager) to 12,000 kids across NM (about ½ of all fourth graders). Continuation of the program is, like most things, contingent upon funding, but many of our local and tribal partners may try and secure funding locally to continue the program next year….
Here are some of the documents (click on the image to make it larger) included in the “Plans for Packs” program, designed to be filled out by 4th graders, and successfully tested by a 2nd grader:
If you’d like more information about the Plans For Packs program, you can contact Andrew Phelps at the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. His email address is Andrew.Phelps[at]state.nm.us.