Poll: Public Ready for Next Disaster But Doubts Federal Government Is

May 16, 2007

Most people say their families and local emergency agencies are ready for the next natural disaster, but the federal government is not. Women and minorities are less confident on both counts.

A poll on the subject was released this week, less than three weeks before the official start of an Atlantic hurricane season that some forecasters say will be an active one.

The USA Today/Gallup poll found that two-thirds of people said their local first responders were prepared for a disaster, while nearly as many said their hospitals and families were ready. Only three in 10 expressed the same confidence in the federal government, underscoring earlier polls that showed a lingering wariness from the slow response to Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 devastation of Gulf of Mexico coastal cities.

Ten percent more men than women, and 24 percent more whites than minorities, said their families are ready to cope with a disaster. More men and whites also expressed confidence that the federal government was ready.

Studies show that “women tend to be more worried about threats, and they are still the principle person responsible for children or older parents” in times of trouble, said Robert Blendon, a health policy expert at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Katrina, whose victims in New Orleans, Louisiana, were disproportionately black, left many minorities wary of relying on the government during disasters.

Minorities also were less likely than whites to think local emergency workers are ready for future disasters, although men and women were split.

Those from the Eastern United States were likelier than people from other regions to say their families were not ready for disaster. Two of three Southerners — the highest rate in the U.S. — said their families are prepared.

Democrats also were less confident than Republicans that their families, local emergency agencies and Washington were ready for a disaster.

The telephone survey of 1,007 adults was conducted from April 13 to 15. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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