Disaster preparedness is not a simple concept. It is not only about stockpiles of water and batteries and survival, it is about what people know, what they think, and who they trust. And it is not only about individual preparedness but about community preparedness. An important part of NCDP’s mission is to understand the psychology of preparedness in the general public, as well as the critical elements of community preparedness. We are focused on finding the evidence that will help individuals and communities improve their readiness and capacity to respond and recover from emergencies of every kind, as individuals, families, and communities.

Over the last 20 years, NCDP has tracked US attitudes on preparedness —focusing on the extent of personal and family preparedness, confidence in government, and perceptions of community preparedness. NCDP, in collaboration with The Children’s Health Fund (CHF), commissioned a series of national and regional opinion polls on preparedness issues conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

These surveys have provided information critical to emergency planning efforts and policymakers on all levels. The recent survey explores “Where the US Public Stands on Terrorism, Security and Disaster Preparedness.” Among the findings: Americans’ confidence in government to protect them from a terrorist attack (which declined sharply for five years after 9/11) has rebounded to about the level that it was immediately following the attacks – at 60%. However, about the same percentage believe that in an attack or other disaster, first responders would arrive within a matter of hours (which is often not the case). The survey showed that less than half of Americans feel their community has an adequate response plan for a disaster that gives no advance warning, such as an earthquake or terrorist event. Yet the proportion of families who lack an emergency preparedness plan has declined since 2003. Moreover, Latino respondents lag behind other groups regarding family preparedness measures.

NCDP survey findings have an impact–now and for future planning. One example: by documenting a gap in preparedness among Latino respondents, the survey may direct attention and resources toward developing a more robust communications strategy for reaching Spanish-speaking Americans. NCDP’s survey findings have been cited in numerous publications as a basis for disaster planning and response and have recently been used by FEMA’s Directorate of Individual and Community Preparedness to help inform new approaches to preparedness messaging.