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How Prepared Is Your Community for an Emergency?

A new survey shows the extent to which Americans around the country have taken measures to prepare for natural disasters or other emergencies.

by Michael Maciag / April 2, 2015

New survey results suggest some communities are much better prepared for emergencies than others.

The Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released data this week showing the extent to which Americans in different parts of the country have taken measures to prepare for natural disasters or other emergencies. Disaster preparedness questions were a new addition to the 2013 American Housing Survey, intended to assist policymakers and emergency responders with planning.

Nationwide, just over half of households had prepared an emergency evacuation kit. Only a third had communication plans in place, while 37 percent had established emergency meeting locations.

The Census Bureau published results for 25 metro areas participating in the survey, which is conducted biennially. For the most part, residents in coastal areas were more likely to have taken steps to prepare for emergencies, likely stemming from greater awareness and risks in those regions. About 70 percent of surveyed households, for example, reported having prepared emergency kits in the Tampa-St. Petersburg and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood metro areas of Florida. By comparison, only 41 percent of households had kits in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Similarly, communication plans -- including contingencies for the disruption of cell phone service -- were most prevalent in Miami area households (45 percent), followed by Baltimore and northern New Jersey. Only a quarter of households reported communication plans in Austin-Round Rock, Texas, and a few other metros. 

Across larger regions, results suggest communities in the Midwest are less prepared. About 46 percent of Midwestern households surveyed reported having an emergency evacuation kit, compared to 52 percent for the Northeast and West and 55 percent for the South. Midwestern households were also slightly less likely to have an emergency water supply and communication plan in place.

A report by the Joint Commission, a health-care nonprofit group, recommends education and grass roots risk communication conducted through local groups, such as high school sports teams, scout troops and local civic organizations.

Some communities have formed Citizen Corps groups to coordinate activities aimed at emergency preparedness and disaster response efforts. Local councils assist with community outreach and implement local strategies incorporating governments, citizens and volunteer organizations. In November, more than 1,400 Georgia schools held tornado drills, according to FEMA.

Evacuating large numbers of residents without transportation also poses a major hurdle for officials. Roughly 11 percent of all households surveyed lacked access to a vehicle for evacuation purposes. This share rises considerably in poorer communities, with 28 percent of households below the poverty level without access to a vehicle, according to the survey.

The vast majority of surveyed households -- 70 percent -- reported they planned to reside with friends or relatives during an evacuation, while most others would stay in hotels. Just 4 percent of all respondents planned to use public shelters. This share is higher for African-American households and those below the poverty level.

Survey Data

Select a metro area below to view its survey data. Results represent percentages of all occupied households. Data was only published for the 25 participating metro areas listed.

This story was originally published by Governing.

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