Public Safety & Homeland Security

Survey Shows Disconnect Between Professional, Citizen Views of Terrorism

Emergency managers are concerned about terrorism, but fewer citizens worry of an attack.

by / November 17, 2011
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia/U.S. Navy. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley Photo courtesy of Wikipedia/U.S. Navy. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

A recent survey revealed that average Americans and disaster management professionals differ in views on the danger of threats facing the country and where those threats come from. The survey also revealed disagreement between emergency management professionals themselves in their views on how the public views the government’s ability to deal with national disasters.

The 9/11 Opinion Survey was compiled by the disaster safety communications firm Cote & D’Ambrosio and was released on Sept. 8. Researchers gauged the opinions of 775 citizens and 905 disaster management professionals. Most of the results are disclosed publicly in the report, but some data is being kept private for security purposes, according to researcher Eric Cote.

“We wanted to create a two-part survey for both professionals and consumers, because we thought it was important to document any differences that exist in the views of these two groups,” he said.

The report includes the following data:

•    Twice as many emergency managers as consumers (28 percent to 13 percent) think an attack on the country is more likely since Osama bin Laden’s death than it was before.

•    Disaster professionals see greater future terrorist threats coming from radical Americans than consumers do (52 percent to 15 percent).

•    Twenty-one percent of consumers strongly agree, and 42 percent somewhat agree that it’s the government’s responsibility to subsidize the rebuilding of their homes or find them temporary housing if their home is destroyed by a natural disaster and they don’t have insurance; seven percent of disaster professionals strongly agree and 34 percent somewhat agree.

•    Twenty-four percent of disaster professionals strongly agree that Americans have unrealistic views of the country’s ability to prevent future terrorist attacks, and 21 percent believe that Americans’ views are unrealistic about the country’s ability to respond to natural or man-made disaster.

•    Disaster management professionals didn’t always agree either. Nineteen percent felt that public expectations were well aligned with the government’s ability to respond to natural or man-made disasters.

“We did have some theories going into the survey about the potential differences and some of these were borne out in the results,” Cote said. “We correctly surmised that concerns over potential future terrorist attacks would differ between professionals and citizens simply because of the access professionals have to intelligence data.”

But the two did groups did share the same views on other topics. Forty-seven percent of consumers and 41 percent of disaster professionals strongly agree that Americans should look out for neighbors who are more vulnerable during disasters. Seventy-one percent of consumers and 69 percent of disaster professionals believe the threat of a terrorist attack is just as likely now as it was before bin Laden’s death.

Cote said security professionals may have a more challenging time dealing with radicalized Americans as terrorist threats than they would with radicalized outsiders but couldn’t offer details. “I would have to defer to homeland security experts to address this topic in depth,” he said. “It would certainly seem that detecting and deterring radicalized Americans from committing terrorist acts may be more challenging for law enforcement.”

According to the survey results, Americans are willing to make sacrifices to be safer. A majority of Americans, 55 percent, are willing to give up personal freedoms and civil liberties for security professionals to better protect them from terrorism. Sixty-one percent have changed where they would vacation because of fears of terrorism.

Data revealed that some citizens have taken steps to protect themselves from the effects of a disaster. Twenty-three percent of consumers purchased a standby generator; 22 percent have lightning surge protection for their house; 21 percent bought flood protection; 34 percent purchased disaster supply kits; and 39 percent created family disaster plans.

Lightning strikes were the No. 1 natural element that consumers were concerned about, coming in at 19 percent, followed by tornadoes at 17 percent and flooding at 17 percent. “Lightning is a severe weather event that people experience on a regular basis,” Cote said. “Lightning doesn’t get the headlines of tornadoes and hurricanes because of its frequency, but it is certainly very damaging, causing about $1 billion a year in property damage.”

Disaster professionals want more private-sector involvement in disaster recovery, and 81 percent agree that corporations have capabilities that could assist in this effort. Sixty-eight percent believe the private sector is obligated to help out. And 61 percent of disaster professionals believe that local governments need programs to engage the private sector for this assistance.

“My take is that while there is overwhelming support for the notion that the private sector has an equal responsibility to be prepared, there is a significant percentage of the government emergency management community who don’t believe this level of preparedness is where it should be,” Cote said.

Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Emergency Management magazine.