Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 22, 2011

So simple, a 2nd grader proves even 4th graders can create a preparedness plan

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Christopher Bellavita on February 22, 2011

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, [62] 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.

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Pingback by Tweets that mention Homeland Security Watch » So simple, a 2nd grader proves even 4th graders can create a preparedness plan -- Topsy.com

February 22, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez, Bellavita. Bellavita said: Homeland Security Watch » So simple, a 2nd grader proves even 4th graders can create a preparedness plan http://bit.ly/fqasBl […]

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

Did I remember inaccurately hearing how well prepared New Zealanders were for the last earthquake? What happened?

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

February 22, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

Bill — New Zealanders seem to be asking the same questions, especially about building codes.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 23, 2011 @ 1:19 am

New Zealand Finance Minister saying this disaster will have total damages well exceeding the last one. And of course the awful loss of life compared to last one.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

February 23, 2011 @ 4:35 am

Why the damage was so great from the 6.2 aftershock? It seems to have done more damage than the 7.1 main shock five months ago.

During the past5 months I would have expected that vulnerable buildings would have been examined and perhaps temporarily buttressed.

Can anyone explain this?

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 23, 2011 @ 8:05 am

Epiocenter only 4.2 miles deep and last years was much deeper.

Comment by Thomas Sturm

February 23, 2011 @ 10:43 am


I have been thinking about the blocks to personal preparedness or the reasons we continually refuse to prepare. Perhaps one reason is because being prepared forces us to think about bad things happening, or because an earthquake or flood may seem so remote (or perhaps even too routine). To that end, I wonder if you have seen anything about the Zombie Squad and what they are about: http://zombiehunters.org/services/index.php
Perhaps this type of approach will resonate more (especially with young people.) It is an interesting approach, using a ridiculous (but fun) scenario to encourage personal preparedness. Zombies are not something we expect the government to rescue us from, nor can we purchase insurance to assuage our fears- but surviving a zombie outbreak would require both preparedness and resilience. .
I would argue that zombies are a significant part of the current survival zeitgeist that could be very beneficial to use to encourage readiness.
I think this is an approach we need to capitalize on: changing personal preparedness from a chore into something the ‘cool kids’ do.

Comment by Tom Russo

February 25, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

I would find these surveys much more instructive if their target were of a geographical region’s population prone to some type of perennial threat…like the Gulf coast and hurricanes or even Kansas and tornadoes.

Otherwise, concerted preparedness efforts by emergency management officials in those perennial threat zones are diluted by the complancent populations served by the 97% emergency management officials who just had not done it.

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