Pennsylvanians are confident yet unprepared for emergencies and terrorist attacks
Pennsylvanians feel confident that they are ready for emergencies of all kinds, including natural disasters and terrorism. However, according to a new survey conducted by Temple University, this confidence does not translate into actual preparedness.
"People have actually done less than half of what they could do to be prepared. They tend to stockpile items like food, water and batteries but ignore the need for a plan laying out where their family will go and what each member will be responsible for in an emergency," said Alice Hausman, director of Temple's Center for Preparedness, Research, Education and Practice (C-PREP).
With support from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Hausman and a team of C-PREP researchers assessed conditions of Pennsylvanians' preparedness, including concerns about natural disasters and terrorism, current preparedness practices, awareness of state resources and preferred communication formats. These findings, based on a survey conducted last fall 2004 of more than 1,500 households across the state, were released today during a press conference at Mitten Hall.
"Reports like this have real-world impact by helping to make cities, regions and states better-prepared for disasters," said Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Calvin B. Johnson, M.D., M.P.H. "With this information, we can better identify what we need to do to educate our citizens and to develop effective training programs for our emergency personnel."
According to Hausman, concern about catastrophic events has remained high in the years since 9/11.
"People worry that someone will intentionally contaminate their food and drinking water but are not as concerned about anthrax exposure through the mail. This is surprising considering the intense media coverage anthrax has received," Hausman said.
In addition, the researchers found that although Pennsylvanians rely heavily on the media for disaster preparedness information, an almost equal percentage turn to local church leaders, public health agencies, local government and organizations like the American Red Cross.
"We have to make sure these groups can address the needs of the public in times of disaster," Hausman said. "All of these groups have a lot to learn from one another, and working together will minimize the negative mental, physical and public health impact of any disaster."
The goal of the C-PREP, which includes faculty and students from 13 departments and disciplines across Temple, is to address gaps in localities' disaster preparedness by determining the mental health impact of disasters on victims and emergency personnel; the role of risk communication in preparedness; and how to improve current preparedness policies and practices across a range of industries.
"This research will support a variety of proposals for risk communication message development, social marketing for preparedness and mental health service delivery," Hausman said.
In addition to receiving state support, the survey benefited from, and was incorporated into, the work of two other ongoing projects at Temple:
- The Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project (MPIP), funded by the William Penn Foundation, issues an annual study of social indicators and public opinion in the 350 Pennsylvania and New Jersey municipalities of the Philadelphia region.
- The Pennsylvania Survey, which extends the MPIP survey statewide, is funded by Temple University's Institute for Public Affairs, as well as the offices of the President, the Provost, and the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.
- By Tory Harris