Study identifies ‘socially vulnerable’ who are unprepared

A new national study shows which Americans are least likely to be prepared to take action in the face of disasters such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

The researchers found that female-headed households, those with children under 18, renters, people of low socioeconomic status, African Americans and Asians were all less likely than others to be at least minimally prepared for disasters.

Members of these groups need special attention before disasters strike to ensure they have the tools to respond, said Smitha Rao, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of social work. at 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 International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Other co-authors were Fiona Doherty, doctoral candidate in social work at Ohio State, and Samantha Teixeira, associate professor of social work at Boston College.

The researchers used data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 2018 National Household Survey. The survey surveyed a nationally representative sample of 4,743 respondents from across the country to whom a variety of questions were asked about their disaster preparedness.

The issue is becoming increasingly crucial in the United States, Rao said.

2021 was second only to 2020 in the number of billion-dollar disasters in the United States (20 in 2021, 22 in 2020), according to a federal government report. Even more disturbing is the fact that there were 123 separate billion-dollar disasters in the 2010s, compared to just 29 in the 1980s.

“For many Americans, it’s not a question of if you’re going to be hit by a disaster, but when,” she said.

For the new study, Rao and his colleagues considered people to be “unprepared” if they had the most essential items needed for immediate evacuation or shelter-in-place for three days. These included emergency funds, access to supplies to go three days without electricity or running water, and access to transportation.

“It’s really just the bare minimum. We should all have a ‘go bag’ with non-perishable food, important medications, a flashlight and emergency cash,” she said.

In addition to examining the readiness of socially vulnerable groups, the researchers also looked at sociocognitive factors that might be associated with readiness.

The results showed that a belief in the usefulness of preparing for disasters was associated with at least adequate preparation.

Those who were less confident in their personal ability to act in an emergency were less likely to be unprepared.

“Trust was an important aspect of preparedness. We can’t say for sure from this data, but part of it may be how much confidence they have that government institutions will help them if needed,” Rao said. .

“Socially vulnerable groups who we found to be less likely to be unprepared may also lack trust in the institutions that are meant to help in times of disaster.”

Not surprisingly, lower socio-economic groups are less likely to be prepared for disasters, she said.

Those struggling to meet daily needs often lack the capacity and resources to plan for daily events, let alone disasters, Rao said.

But the results showed that even a slight jump from the lowest income group was associated with a higher readiness score in the study sample.

Another key finding was that survey participants who had received disaster preparedness information in the past six months were more likely to be prepared.

“But more than half of the sample – 56% – said they had not received any preparedness information in the last six months, so this is an important area of ​​focus,” Rao said. .

Overall, the findings suggest that social workers and other health and support professionals should work specifically with the groups identified in this study to help them prepare before disasters strike.

“Disasters don’t affect everyone equally,” Rao said. “We need to find ways to help those who are most exposed to the consequences of disasters.”