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Less healthy? Less likely to prepare for disaster

January 12, 2011|By Eryn Brown
  • A recent study showed that about 42% of households surveyed had a complete disaster kit with a three-day supply of water and nonperishable food, a battery-operated working radio and a battery-operated flashlight. A woman uses her cellphone to take pictures of a damaged home after a tornado that touched down in December in Oregon.
A recent study showed that about 42% of households surveyed had a complete… (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer )

Chances are, your family hasn't been 100% on the ball when it comes to keeping a disaster kit -- the several days' supply of water, food, matches, medications, blankets, batteries and other supplies you might need in an emergency -- on hand.

And the chances are even greater that you're unprepared if you're disabled or if you have a chronic disease, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported Tuesday.

Researchers led by Jeffrey Bethel, a professor of public health at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., analyzed data gathered from 37,303 respondents in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada and Tennessee as part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a nationwide survey conducted by state health departments between 2006 and 2008.

Among these survey participants, about 42% of households -- less than half -- said they had a complete disaster kit consisting of a three-day supply of water and nonperishable food, a battery-operated working radio and a battery-operated flashlight. About 29% said they had an emergency evacuation plan, and about 87% reported that each family member requiring medication had a three-day supply on hand.  

Those reporting poor health, disabilities or chronic disease were less likely than healthier people to have a full disaster kit, and more likely to say they had medications on hand.  Generally, less healthy people were also less likely to have an evacuation plan -- though those who use special equipment such as a wheelchair were more likely to have an evacuation plan.

While the numbers of people with a three-day supply of medication were somewhat encouraging (the American Red Cross recommends keeping a seven-day supply), the overall lack of preparation is troubling, the researchers said.

People with health problems -- there are about 47.5 million Americans with a disability and 133 million with at least one chronic disease -- are more likely to suffer during natural disasters like hurricanes, floods or earthquakes.  It's harder for less-healthy people to respond to a crisis or evacuate. What's more, their disabilities could be aggravated by post-disaster conditions.  The study cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that said five of the top six conditions affecting Hurricane Katrina evacuees were chronic diseases.

The researchers suggested that public health officials should use this information to better target people with poor health --  and try to figure out why so few people take the simple steps needed to be prepared.  "Future studies should investigate why vulnerable groups do not have complete disaster preparedness kits, particularly in areas prone to fires, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and flooding," they wrote.
 
The finding were similar to those of a previous study conducted in Los Angeles County.

RELATED: Los Angeles Times reports on earthquake preparedness.

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