US Household Emergency Preparedness: A Status Report
Ralph Morris, MD

Emergency Food Storage: Food may be stored conveniently in a cabinet constructed under a home’s basement steps. In this arrangement, cans are situated on shelves inclined toward the front of the cabinet so that the oldest cans roll forward for first use.

New survey data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) demonstrate many US households should increase their level of disaster and emergency preparedness. Improving Americans’ ability to cope in times of crisis can help reduce the strain on emergency service and healthcare systems. Being prepared at the household level also helps instill confidence in individuals that basic survival needs will be met when the unexpected occurs.

CDC data from 14 states over the 2006-2010 time period were reported in the September 14, 2012 MMWR report, and are summarized below.

Emergency Preparedness Measure Percentage of Households Prepared
Working battery-operated flashlight 94.8
Working battery-operated radio 77.7
3-day supply of prescription medicines 89.7
3-day supply of food 82.9
3-day supply of water 53.6
Written evacuation plan 21.1

Our State of Preparedness

To their credit, the vast majority of US households maintain a battery-operated flashlight and a three-day supply of prescription medicines. Relatively high percentages keep a three-day supply of food and a working battery-operated radio. However, only slightly greater than half of households surveyed keep a three-day supply of water. Because human beings cannot live more than three to five days without water, that statistic highlights a significant shortcoming in the state of US household emergency preparedness. Also troubling is the finding that slightly more than one in five households have written evacuation plans.

The data show experience with emergencies is an effective teacher. Of respondents in 14 states, those from Louisiana, a state devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, were most likely to report storing a three-day supply of water (67.1%) and a written evacuation plan (54%). According to CDC, the survey confirmed previous studies that generally indicate increased preparedness among men, English-speaking persons and adults with more education. Targeting effective communication to less prepared groups should be a priority.

A, B, C’s of HOUSEHOLD EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS1

A. BE INFORMED

KNOW What emergency officials recommend in the event of a disaster: when to shelter-in-place and when to evacuate. Know what kinds of disasters are likely to affect your area.

B. STOCK UP

WATERStore 1 gallon per person per day for at least 3 days (even better: store a 6-8 week supply), for drinking and sanitation (see www.ready.gov/water); store a supply of chlorine bleach for emergency drinking water disinfection and solid surface disinfection.

FOODStore at least a 3-day supply of nonperishable food (even better: store a 6-8 week supply); store a hand-operated can opener.

MEDICATIONS AND FIRST AID SUPPLIESStore at least a 3-day supply of medications for each person who takes prescription medications (this is vital for diabetics, heart, lung and other chronic conditions); store over-the-counter medications for treating fever, flu, colds, etc.; store a fully stocked first aid kit for treating minor injuries and illness.

FLASHLIGHTS AND RADIOSStore battery-operated or hand-crank varieties.

MATCHES, CANDLES, AND PORTABLE POWER SOURCESStore matches, candles, candle holders, and batteries; store propane or gasoline (in a safe place) for a portable generator.

HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS AND SANITARY ITEMSStore paper products (facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels); plastic products (garbage bags, re-sealable bags); cleaning supplies; non-water hand sanitizer; personal hygiene products.

COMMUNICATIONS EQUIPMENTStore a battery-operated or hand-crank radio and fully-charged cell phones to maintain an open information channel with family, friends, local authorities and community information sources.

CASHCash on-hand could be necessary to replenish supplies and purchase necessary services when ATMs and banking services are unavailable.

C. HAVE A PLAN

Your emergency plan should address caring for family members or neighbors with special needs, pets and safely shutting off home utilities. Practice your plan at least twice a year and update it according to any issues that arise.

>Footnote: This resource is partly based on CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency information.


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Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

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