Unprepared For Disaster
May 13, 2007 By Brad Heath, USA
Many Americans haven't taken basic steps to prepare for
a natural disaster and have little confidence the
federal government is ready to help them if one
strikes. The findings come as the nation braces for a
summer that government forecasts predict could bring a
worse-than-normal onslaught of hurricanes, tornadoes
and wildfires. The first named storm of the year formed
Wednesday off the Atlantic coast as fires burned from
Florida to Los Angeles and President Bush toured a
Kansas town flattened by a tornado.
When it comes to preparing for such disasters, a USA
TODAY/Gallup Poll found 41% of people don't have a
stockpile of food and water, and 27% don't have an
extra supply of medicines, both of which the Federal
Emergency Management Agency says are basic disaster
preparations. About 40% haven't picked a person for
their family to contact in the event of a disaster and
18% don't have a first aid kit.
[Note there is no definition of
"prepared" above. A three day supply is not
adequate preparation, but the people in this survey may
think it is.]
When people aren't prepared, it puts an extra strain on
emergency managers across the country, forcing them to
deliver food, ice, water and other supplies to people
who could have stored their own, FEMA Administrator
David Paulison says. "That puts an unbearable stress on
the system," he says.
In Miami, a hurricane hotspot, that means emergency
crews now face demands to have shipments of bottled
water ready within hours of a hurricane - even when the
tap water is still safe to drink, says Robert
Palestrant, director of Miami-Dade County's Office of
"We probably need to step back to where we were a few
years ago and depend more on ourselves and less on the
government." he says. "People have this expectation
that my power's out, so somebody should give me cold
The main reason people don't prepare is that they don't
think they're at risk, says American Red Cross
spokeswoman Greta Petrilla.
If people expect the government to save them, they
don't think it will actually be able to do so. The USA
TODAY/Gallup poll, conducted last month, found about
two-thirds of Americans don't think the federal
government is ready to deal with a natural disaster in
their neighborhoods; about two-thirds think their local
police and fire departments are ready.
In New Orleans, still grappling with Katrina's
aftermath, only 9% think Washington is "very prepared"
for another disaster, according to a survey to be
released today by the non-profit Kaiser Family
Foundation. About 53% said they and their families are
FEMA told Congress last month that it won't finish a
new disaster plan for the country in time for the June
1 start of hurricane season.
Paulison says FEMA is ready. He blames the agency's
response to Katrina for the lack of public confidence
and says it will have to earn that trust back with how
it responds to future disasters.
"I don't know if people are going to believe what I
tell them, and maybe they shouldn't. But the proof's
going to be in the pudding," he says.