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Personal Preparedness Survey: 2009 Findings

FEMA Research Provides New Insights on Personal Preparedness

Survey Findings Provide Direction for Communication and Public Education

WASHINGTON, D.C.- During the 2009 National Conference on Community Preparedness, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a new report Personal Preparedness in America: Findings from the 2009 Citizen Corps National Survey that offers comprehensive data on the public's thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors related to preparedness and community safety for multiple types of hazards.  Findings from these surveys provide valuable insights for increasing personal prepareperson preparedness survey cover dness, civic engagement, and community resilience.  These findings are particularly relevant as we prepare for a possible pandemic flu outbreak, hurricane season, and other hazards.

Results from this study have important implications for the development of more effective communication and outreach strategies to achieve greater levels of preparedness and participation.  Suggested strategies based on this data include:

  • Stress that preparedness is a shared responsibility.
  •   Results from the national survey indicate that 29 percent of Americans have not prepared because they think that emergency responders will help them and that over 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.  Messaging should speak to a shared responsibility and stress that everyone has a role to play in preparedness and response. 
  • Provide more specificity on preparedness actions. 
  • This research 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, 35 percent did not have a household plan, 77 percent had not conducted a home evacuation drill, and 73 percent did not know their community's evacuation routes. 
  • Highlight additional preparedness needs for people with disabilities.
  • Fifteen 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.  Only 28 percent had taken a CPR or first aid training and less than half (47%) 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 37 percent reported taking CPR training, 40 percent reported taking first aid training and 54 percent had supplies set aside in their home.
  • Emphasize the importance of drills and exercises. 
  • 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 (42%) 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%, 10%, and 14% respectively).  Drills and exercises for multiple hazards and multiple locations need to be conducted through social networks.  In addition, community members need to be included more effectively in government-sponsored community exercises.
  • Offer specialized information on the survivability of manmade disasters.
  • These results indicate that individuals' perceived utility of preparing and their confidence in their ability to respond varies significantly by disaster type.  Only 6 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.  It is important to emphasize the survivability of manmade disasters and the relevant protective measures for these hazards.
  • Couple a national voice with local specificity. 
  • National leaders must be strong advocates for personal preparedness, but 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. 

FEMA’s Citizen Corps grassroots community resilience movement and the awareness campaign work together to actively involve Americans in making themselves and their communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to handle any emergency situation.  2,400 local communities nationwide have created Citizen Corps Councils to strengthen collaboration between government and civic leaders and to educate, train, and involve the public. 

Read the survey reports