In spite of 9/11 & Katrina, Americans still not prepared for disasters

NEW YORK ( – On a rainy Saturday morning, Zaid Abdullah, 60, and his wife Bonnie, 64, traveled to Brooklyn to participate in their second “Evac-U-Walk,” which was sponsored by the International Preparedness Network (IPN).

“We feel it necessary to be out here, rain or shine, because we want to learn everything we can in case something happens,” the Abdullahs said, later admitting that some of their children and most of their neighbors accuse them of overreacting.


“What worries us most is that our family won’t take us seriously,” they shared, adding, “We have grandchildren.”

The Final Call asked if they had read about the recent study by the New York Chapter of the American Red Cross and the New York University Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response, which showed almost half of New York City’s population of eight million people was not prepared for taking care of themselves and their families if a natural disaster hit.

“We are not surprised at those statistics,” Mr. Abdullah replied.

The report stated that half of New Yorkers polled had emergency supply kits, but many of the kits are incomplete; 63 percent said they have an emergency plan, but have yet to put their plan to a test run.

“People aren’t taking this as seriously as they should,” argues Aton Edwards, the IPN instructor for the walk. “A lot of people cancelled out this morning because they said it was going to rain, but since when does a disaster occur under the best conditions,” he argued.

According to the report, approximately half of New York City residents would not be able to feed or shelter themselves for three days if water and electricity were cut off. Researchers say that each family should store a gallon of water per day, per family member.

The report also stated that Manhattan is the least prepared borough, with 58 percent of those responding to the survey lacking a basic emergency supply kit. Queens was described as the best-prepared borough, with 40 percent lacking the basic kit.

“Residents of New York City say they are better prepared today than a year ago to cope with a major emergency or disaster, but we still have so much more to accomplish,” NY Red Cross CEO Theresa Bischoff stated in a press release.

But, that is not the worst of it.

On June 5, PRNewswire-First Call released a story that “only 18 percent of adult residents living in the Gulf and Southern East Coast states, from Texas to Delaware” say their family is “very prepared” for a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flood. The news wire quotes a survey commissioned by Home Depot and the Red Cross.

Additional findings include the fact that 37 percent of residents interviewed through the survey said they were “concerned” about the dangers a hurricane would present. Nearly one in three (31 percent) said they don’t know how to protect their families; more than half (55 percent) do not have a disaster supply kit; and more than two in five (47 percent) do not have a disaster plan in case of a natural disaster.

And the straw that most probably would break the camel’s back is a report released June 16 by the federal Homeland Security Department that states that most American cities, states and territories “still are far from ready for terror attacks and natural disasters,” according to the Associated Press. “Frankly, we just have not in this country put a premium on our level of catastrophe planning,” stated an undersecretary for Homeland Security.

The report noted 10 states that received the highest rating of “sufficient”–Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Mississippi. Ironically, the report said that Louisiana’s plans are “insufficient.”

According to the AP, President George Bush ordered the review of emergency response plans after a visit to New Orleans in the middle of September after Hurricane Katrina.

In September, The New York Times ran a story stating that cities had received billions of dollars to prepare for a terrorist attack, “but few have prepared in detail for a doomsday possibility like Hurricane Katrina, nor have they workable plans to evacuate millions of people with little or no notice.”

The director of the California Office of Emergency Services told the Times that, “Evacuating a large urban area is difficult in the best of circumstances.” An interesting assessment given the fact, as the Times noted: “Los Angeles, the nation’s second most-populous city, sits atop of a spider web of earthquake faults. But the city has no plan for moving and sheltering the large number of people who would be made homeless by such a disaster.”

That is not good news, given a story published by Reuters on June 21 that quoted a scientist connected with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla, Calif., saying that the “southern end of the San Andreas fault near Los Angeles is under immense stress and could produce a massive earthquake at any moment.”

Andy Atwood, 41, is a mail handler in Los Angeles, with a wife and two daughters, ages three and 13, living in a home in South Central. He admits that he has not prepared his family to deal with a disaster.

“I am the coordinator at work if something happens, but I am embarrassed to say that we are not prepared at home,” he said, admitting that even though he has lived most of his life in California, he hasn’t taken the cliché “the big one is coming” seriously. “But I know I have to get my family prepared,” he concluded.

When asked if he knew what the evacuation route was in South Central, he responded: “We don’t have one.”

“Emergency response planners acknowledge that no plans exist for moving hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions, of Southern Californians out of harm’s way,” admitted the chief of Homeland Security in L.A., according to the Times.

A Harris Interactive poll taken in 2003 warned that only 50 percent of the people living in L.A. had evacuation plans, while 43 percent of San Franciscans had such a plan.

“How can people in this day and time say they are not ready for a natural disaster or a terrorist attack?” asked Allison Wharton, project coordinator for the National Hurricane Survival Initiative. Then answering her own question, she said, “People don’t want to do the preparedness thing, because they don’t want to put the money out, and then nothing happens.”

Ms. Wharton said the role of the National Hurricane Survival Initiative was to bring about an awareness of the need to be prepared. “It is very important that we educate people about the things they must be concerned with when a disaster is imminent,” she stated.

After crossing the famed Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan resident Priscilla Salik exclaimed, “This was my first Evac-U-Walk and I am so glad I came today. I have learned so much and I admit that I have so much more to learn.”