For immediate release: July 23, 2008
Boston, MA — Three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the Gulf Coast, a new survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security shows that one-third (34%) of those affected by the storm report they are very prepared if a major hurricane were to strike their communities in the next six months. The top worries of respondents threatened or hit by Hurricane Katrina are that they would not have enough fresh water to drink (42% very worried) and that they would not be able to get needed medical care (41% very worried). The survey of 5,055 people was conducted in eight states-Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas-and only included residents of high-risk counties, those within 20 miles of the coast. The poll also included a special sample of the New Orleans metropolitan area. (See Figures 1 and 2.)
The top concern of respondents who were not affected by Katrina is that they would have problems getting gas needed to evacuate (39% very worried). This is a concern that Katrina-affected respondents share (36% very worried) but rank below worries about fresh water and medical care. Those not affected by Katrina are much less likely to be worried about fresh water (27% very worried) and getting needed medical care (29% very worried).
“The top concerns of people in high-risk hurricane areas-having enough fresh water, getting medical care, and obtaining gas to evacuate-are all things that public officials can plan for before the major storms of this season hit,” said Robert Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Katrina-affected respondents have a heightened degree of concern across a number of issues compared to those not affected by the storm. These concerns include caring for a chronically ill or elderly household member, having enough cash on hand during the storm’s aftermath, dealing with the conditions at an evacuation shelter if they should need to go to one, and being threatened by violence. Approximately one in three Katrina-affected respondents are very worried about each of these problems while those who were not affected by Katrina are less worried. (See Figure 2.)
These findings are based on interviews conducted May 27 – June 23, 2008 with 5,055 adults in high hurricane risk counties in eight states. Twelve percent of the survey’s respondents said they were threatened or hit by Hurricane Katrina while 46% were threatened or hit by a different hurricane during the past five years.
Individual state results:
The results of this survey will be distributed to state and local officials for use in emergency planning.
Hurricane Evacuation and Readiness
Despite the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, a sizeable number of people living in high-risk hurricane areas say they would not evacuate due to a major storm if government officials said they had to leave. Nearly one in four (23%) Katrina-affected respondents and 28% of other high risk area respondents would stay in their homes. Of those respondents who would need help to evacuate (20% of Katrina-affected respondents and 18% of others), nearly half (46% Katrina-affected and 49% other high-risk respondents) have not arranged that help. Approximately one in four pet owners (25% Katrina-affected and 27% other high-risk respondents) do not have a place they could go and take their pet. (See Figure 3.)
Challenges Facing Families with a Chronic Illness or Disability
Compared to other respondents, those coping with a chronic illness or disability in the household are less prepared for a major hurricane and are more worried about a number of storm related problems. The survey found that 14% of residents of high-risk hurricane areas live in households in which someone has a chronic illness or disability that would require them to get help in order to evacuate. Of this group, 43% do not have help lined up. Seventeen percent are not prepared at all for a major hurricane in the next six months compared to 9% of others. They are also less likely to have a three week supply of the prescription drugs they take (39% compared to 30% of others) and have a first aid kit (30% compared to 20%). (See Figure 4.)
Evacuation shelters could also be faced with the challenges of supporting people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. If they get the help they need to evacuate, respondents living in households in which someone has a chronic illness/disability are more likely to go to a shelter (22% compared to 10% of others). The unique needs of families with a chronic illness/disability are evident in their storm-related concerns. They are more likely to be very worried about getting needed medical care (50% compared to 28%), suffering from heat exhaustion (45% compared to 23%), having enough fresh water to drink (41% compared to 27%), and having necessary prescription drugs (41% compared to 19%).
“This study shows that if nothing is done, thousands of people with chronic illnesses and disabilities could be stuck in their homes during a major hurricane,” said Professor Blendon. “Preparing now for evacuating these groups could prevent future tragedies.”
Mobile Home Residents
Despite the increased risk to mobile home residents during a hurricane, 17% say they would not evacuate in the event of a major storm if officials told them to do so. Nearly one in four (23%) think their home could survive a category 3 or higher hurricane. When asked how prepared they would be if a major hurricane were to strike their community in the next six months, 17% of mobile home residents said they are not prepared at all. (See Figure 5.)
Where to Go for More Information
Hurricane and tropical storm preparedness information including safe water, emergency supplies, and evacuation can be found at your local health department or emergency response websites or at www.cdc.gov.
This survey part of a series of studies by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security. The study was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The project director is Robert J. Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health. The research team also includes Tami Buhr, John M. Benson, and Kathleen J. Weldon of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Melissa J. Herrmann of ICR/International Communications Research. Fieldwork was conducted via telephone for the Project by ICR/International Communications Research of Media (PA) between May 27 and June 23, 2008.
The survey was conducted with a representative sample of 5,055 non-institutionalized adults ages 18 and over in high hurricane risk counties in eight states. Survey participants included residents of all counties within 20 miles of the coast in Alabama (500 interviews), Florida (1,007), Georgia (502), Louisiana (1,002), Mississippi (500), North Carolina (506), South Carolina (500), and Texas (538). The survey included 502 residents of the New Orleans metropolitan area, where interviews were conducted with adults from cellphone-only households, as well from households with landline telephones.
The results were weighted to represent the total adult population in the high hurricane risk counties of the region as a whole. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
Possible sources of nonsampling error include nonresponse bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Nonresponse in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases, sample data are weighted to the most recent Census data available from the Current Population Survey for gender, age, race, education, as well as number of adults in the household. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, callbacks staggered over times of day and days of the week, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.
The Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a grant to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). HSPH provides ASTHO and the CDC with technical assistance for public health communication by monitoring the response of the general public to public health threats.
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photo: iStockphoto.com/Nick Tzolov
Harvard School of Public Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu) is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit: www.hsph.harvard.edu