Study Reveals Socially Vulnerable Unprepared for Disasters
Published: 2022-07-18 - Updated: 2023-01-04
Author: Ohio State University | Contact: osu.edu
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes | DOI: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212420922002916
Additional References: Disability Emergency Planning Publications
Synopsis: Study reveals which Americans are least likely to be prepared to take necessary actions when faced with disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Households led by women, those with children under age 18, renters, those of low socioeconomic status, African Americans, and Asians were all less likely than others to be at least minimally prepared for disasters. 2021 came in second to 2020 in terms of the number of billion-dollar disasters in the United States (20 in 2021, 22 in 2020), according to a federal government report. Even more ominous is that there were 123 separate billion-dollar disasters in the 2010s versus only 29 in the 1980s.
Disasters are serious disruptions to the functioning of a community that exceeds its capacity to cope using its resources. Disasters are routinely divided into either "natural disasters" caused by natural hazards or "human-instigated disasters" caused by anthropogenic hazards. However, in modern times, the divide between natural, artificial, and man-accelerated disasters is difficult to draw.
Anthropogenic disasters include societal hazards (criminality, civil disorder, terrorism, war, industrial hazards, engineering hazards, power outage, fire, hazards caused by transportation, and environmental hazards.
Natural disasters include avalanches, coastal flooding, cold wave, drought, earthquake, hail, heat waves, hurricanes, tropical cyclones, ice storms, landslides, lightning, riverine flooding, strong wind, tornado, tsunami, volcanic activity, wildfire, winter weather.
Researchers found that households led by women, those with children under age 18, renters, those of low socioeconomic status, African Americans, and Asians were all less likely than others to be at least minimally prepared for disasters.
People in these groups need special attention before disasters occur to ensure they have the tools necessary to respond, said Smitha Rao, lead author of the study and assistant professor of social work at The Ohio State University.
"Focusing on vulnerable groups, understanding their specific barriers, and connecting them to resources within the community are key strategies to ensure no one is left behind when disaster strikes," Rao said.
The study appears in the July 2022 issue of the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Other co-authors were Fiona Doherty, a doctoral student in social work at Ohio State, and Samantha Teixeira, associate professor of social work at Boston College.
The researchers used data from the 2018 Federal Emergency Management Agency National Household Survey. The survey involved a nationally representative sample of 4,743 respondents from across the country who were asked a variety of questions about their preparedness for disasters.
The issue is becoming increasingly crucial in the United States, Rao said.
2021 came in second to 2020 in terms of the number of billion-dollar disasters in the United States (20 in 2021, 22 in 2020), according to a federal government report. Even more ominous is that there were 123 separate billion-dollar disasters in the 2010s versus only 29 in the 1980s.
"For many Americans, it is not a question of if you're going to be impacted by a disaster, but when," she said.
For the new study, Rao and her colleagues considered people 'minimally prepared' if they had the essential elements necessary for immediate evacuation or sheltering in place for three days. These included emergency funds, access to supplies to get through three days without power or running water, and access to transportation.
"It is just the minimum. We should all have a 'go bag' with non-perishable foods, important medications, a flashlight, and some emergency cash," she said.
In addition to looking at the preparation status of socially vulnerable groups, the researchers also examined socio-cognitive factors that could be associated with preparedness.
Results showed that a belief in the usefulness of preparing for disasters was associated with being at least adequately prepared.
Those who had less confidence in their personal ability to act in the face of an emergency were less likely to be minimally prepared.
"Confidence was an important aspect of being prepared. We can't tell for sure from these data, but part of this may be how much confidence they have that government institutions will help them when necessary," Rao said.
"Socially vulnerable groups that we found were less likely to be minimally prepared may also lack confidence in institutions that are supposed to help during disasters."
It was no surprise that lower socioeconomic groups were less likely to be prepared for disasters, she said.
Those struggling to meet day-to-day needs often don't have the ability and resources to plan for everyday events, let alone disasters, Rao said.
The findings showed that even a slight jump from the lowest income group was associated with a higher readiness score in the study's sample.
Another key finding was that those survey participants who had received information related to disaster preparedness within the last six months were more likely to be prepared.
"But more than half of the sample - 56% - reported not receiving any information on preparedness in the past six months, so this is an important area of intervention," Rao said.
Overall, the results suggest that social workers and other health and helping professionals should work with the groups identified in this study to help them become prepared before disasters occur.
"Disasters don't affect everyone evenly," Rao said. "We need to find ways to help those who are most at risk of the consequences of disasters."
International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
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