Personal Preparedness in America
Findings from the Citizen Corps National Surveys

Nicole Vincent
Communications and Research Analyst
ICF Macro

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following has been prepared from a transcription of the recording. The complete slide set (Adobe PDF) may be downloaded from for ease of printing.

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone. Welcome to Today’s program is focused on the insights provided in two recently published reports from Citizen Corps: Personal Preparedness in America: Findings from the Citizen Corps National Survey and Findings from the Citizen Corps Survey of Four Urban Areas.

Please note, links to the reports are posted on the Background Page for today’s session. A related survey on our home page asks, "Are public expectations about government assistance unrealistic?" Please take a moment to participate and review the results thus far.

[Slide 1]

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today’s guest. Nicole Vincent is a Communications and Research Analyst for ICF Macro. She leads multiple project tasks in support of Citizen Corps, and is currently managing the national household surveys on individual disaster preparedness.

Nicole has more than eight years experience in community health planning and evaluation, health communication evaluation, social marketing and public health research, using qualitative and quantitative research to identify evidence-based project recommendations.

Welcome Nicole, and thank you very much for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Nicole Vincent: Thank you, Amy. Thank you everybody for your time and for joining us today. I know that Citizen Corps is excited about the opportunity to share this research to emergency professionals such as you and I’m happy to be here representing Citizen Corps at this time. Before I get into the research, I would like to talk a little bit about Citizen Corps. Some of you may know of Citizen Corps; some of you may not.

[Slide 2]

For those of you who don’t know really know Citizen Corps, or who know just a little bit, here’s just some background:

The vision for Citizen Corps is to build a culture of preparedness in each community through the Council efforts which will inevitably result in resilient communities, and in turn, a resilient nation.

Community resilience is built through integrating preparedness and full community resources into meeting everyday challenges that strengthen community relationships and resources.

Personal preparedness is every American’s civic responsibility; we must be trained and ready to help others in an emergency; we must get involved by actively engaging in our community’s resiliency and supporting local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety.

Everyone in America has a critical role to play, including learning about local hazards and being prepared, getting trained in lifesaving and emergency response skills, volunteering to supplement a local emergency services on a routine basis, or functioning in a surge capacity role during an incident.

[Slide 3]

Citizen Corps’ mission is to educate, train and involve everyone in America, to bring government and civic leaders together to share and collaborate on planning, to ensure all civic leaders are brought to the table. This is the full cycle of emergency management at the local level.

The goals of Citizen Corps are to build collaboration and achieve resilience. National Citizen Corps provides tools and resources to implement at the local level.

[Slide 4]

Here you see a snapshot of some of the national partners that Citizen Corps is currently working with. We work with them on various initiatives to make citizens more prepared.

[Slide 5]

Now on to the research: Among the various preparedness initiatives, Citizen Corps is committed to conducting research that will help inform policy and work at the local level. Here are some examples of some of the research that we have done in the past and that we are currently working on.

We have the National Household Surveys which we’ll be talking about today. We conducted those in 2003, 2007, and 2009.

We also have a Surveys Database of surveys that have been conducted to measure personal preparedness, school preparedness, and business preparedness.

We also have Citizen Preparedness Reviews which are short papers talking about certain topics related to behaviors and attitudes of citizens and preparedness.

We have a Behavior Change Model which we developed which tries to provide guidance on how to make individuals more prepared through certain kinds of interventions.

Some of our upcoming Citizen Preparedness Reviews that should be coming out soon are Media Frame Analysis, where we look at how the media frames preparedness and how that impacts an individual’s motivation to prepare, and then Business Preparedness (how businesses are actively getting prepared).

For further information on all these research projects, please check out: I can show that link again at the end of the presentation.

[Slide 6]

A little bit more about the Citizen Corps Household Survey, which is our focus for today. We conducted this in 2003, 2007 and 2009. The purpose was to measure the public’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors relative to preparing for a range of hazards.

Please note that today we’re going to be focusing on the 2007 results and we’ll be doing some comparisons with the 2003 results. The 2009 results, we’re currently in the process of analyzing the results and those will be first released at the Citizen Corps Conference which will be August 9 through August 12, and it will be held in Arlington, Virginia. For further information on that conference, you can check out

Some background: In 2003, we had a sample size of about 1,900 adults, all over the age of 18 years. In 2007, we increased the sample quite a bit to 2,400 adults. We did one national sample and we also did an oversample of 4 UASIS (Urban Area Security Initiatives) and those are some jurisdictions that we picked—Indianapolis, New York, Houston, and San Francisco.

In 2009, we have a national sample of even more (3,400) and an oversampling of 500 for each of the 6 RCPGP locations. (That is the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program.) Those are also based on jurisdictions of the U.S. Those cities are in New York/New Jersey, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles/Long Beach, Chicago, and the National Capitol Region.

You’ll also see where we fielded, we have noted on the H1N1. In the process of fielding our 2009 survey, the H1N1 event happened, so we put the survey on hold for a couple of days and we decided to add a couple of questions that ask how individuals are getting information on H1N1. We will be releasing that information and that analysis in August.

[Slide 7]

Now, moving on to the results of 2007: One of the questions that we asked respondents was what did they believe was the likelihood of 4 different kinds of disasters happening in their community happening in the next 12 months or ever. We asked about natural hazards, HAZMAT material accidents, severe disease outbreaks and acts of terrorism.

As you can see, individuals perceive a relatively low likelihood of disasters, personally expecting them. You’ll see in blue, the natural disasters, and when you’re comparing the different cities, you’ll see that San Francisco had the highest rate of believing that there was a likelihood of a natural disaster ever happening, while New York had the lowest. It was actually lower than the national average.

The reason why we decided to compare in this particular slide, natural disaster versus terrorism, was because that was the starkest contrast. More people believed that a natural hazard would happen compared to much less people believing that an act of terrorism would happen.

In pink, New York actually had the highest belief of terrorism ever happening, which makes sense, considering their previous experience with 9/11.

Based on this finding, we’ve determined that outreach, social marketing, and risk communication strategies should take into account that motivators to undertake preparedness activities may be different for natural disasters as compared to other disasters, particularly in relation to terrorism.

Communication strategies that seek to increase preparedness for terrorist-related threats must address susceptibility and people’s confidence in their ability to respond in the moment. Individuals should be better educated about specific disasters and the training necessary to respond to each type of disaster likely for their community.

Special attention should be focused on engaging individuals in basic preparedness for explosions, dirty bombs, and release of chemical agents. These are things that we found people were decided were less likely of actually happening.

[Slide 8]

Another set of questions that we asked respondents was whether they felt preparation for these hazards would actually benefit them. We found that the highest was for natural disasters. Seventy-seven percent believed that preparation would help them. In terms of terrorism, we saw that only 3 in 10 respondents felt that preparation would make a difference.

This is something that the latest of some of the other findings have found that this is really showing that there is a feeling of fatalism in terms of terrorism, that no matter what they do, nothing will help.

[Slide 9]

We started, since 2003, we’ve asked people whether they have a household emergency plan, if they have a kit in their homes, their cars, and in their workplaces. You’ll see that the plans have gone down a bit since 2003, as well as the car kits. The work kits were the same.

One thing that we went a little bit further that just asking whether they had a kit, is we asked them what supplies they actually had in the kit. We found that many of their kits were incomplete. Too few people had stocked disaster supplies, and most supplies were incomplete.

More emphasis is needed on the importance of stocking disaster supplies in multiple locations, and more direction on what is needed, what are the critical items, such as flashlights, radios, batteries, first aid kits, and personal financial and insurance documents.

[Slide 10]

Another question we asked was whether they expected to need help to evacuate out of their area or to get help to go to a shelter in the event of a disaster. We found that all the urban areas, all the UASIs, recorded a higher level of expectation of relying on others to evacuate, much more than the national average.

Almost half of San Franciscans and more than 60% of New Yorkers expected to need help. Our recommendation is what we really need to do is to explore the kind of help needed to evacuate or get to a shelter and ensure appropriate resources are available to those who need them and communicate that availability.

We’re actually finding out this information in the 2009 survey and we’re finding out some interesting stuff. Hopefully we’re on our way to finding out more about what people need to help with evacuation.

What also needs to happen is we need to encourage more appropriate levels of self-reliance and community support. Preparing is everybody’s responsibility, so they need to have some kind of plan or some type of system in the event of a disaster in which they have to evacuate.

[Slide 11]

We also asked questions in terms of where people thought they were in the cycle of preparedness. You’ll see that social marketing strategies often try to move individuals along that cycle to try to get them from not being prepared to maintaining their preparedness.

You’ll notice that while 32% of the respondents reported being prepared for at least 6 months, almost as many reported not planning to do anything at all about preparing.

We also did a comparison to compare those who had reported being prepared for at least 6 months and those who reported not being prepared, whether the ones who reported being prepared were more knowledgeable about their community resources. We found that yes, they are.

Fifty-nine percent of the people who were prepared knew their alerts and warning systems versus those who weren’t, at 39%. Official sources of public safety information, that was 46% of those prepared versus 27%. Knowing their community evacuation routes, that was 42% versus 19%.

The shelter locations in their area were 46% versus 25%. And how to get help with evacuating or getting to a shelter was 42% versus 24%. What we’re seeing if we still have a lot of work to do to get people from the purple to the green. We’re hoping that the work that Citizen Corps and other organizations and local emergency personnel such as you, will help move that cycle along.

[Slide 12]

Some key findings from the survey overall—we need to stress that preparedness is a shared responsibility. The most commonly cited reason people have not been prepared (close to 40%) is that they think emergency responders will help them. We need to make their expectations realistic. Nearly 60% expect to rely on emergency responders in the first 72 hours.

Also, we need to provide more guidance on preparedness actions. Forty percent who perceived themselves to be prepared actually didn’t have a household plan. Eighty percent had not conducted a home evacuation. Nearly 60% did not know their community’s evacuation route.

We also need to highlight additional preparedness needs for people with disabilities. Almost 20% of respondents reported having a disability affecting their ability to respond, and only 24% of these had made preparations specific to their disability.

[Slide 13]

We also need to emphasize the need for drills and exercises. Forty-one percent practice in a workplace evacuation plan. Thirteen percent participated in a home-based drill. Thirteen percent of those in school or with children in school participated in a school drill.

What we saw was that workplace was a big motivator for people practicing drills and exercises. That really needs to be carried home as much as possible.

We also need to offer specialized information on the survivability of manmade disasters. Eight percent felt nothing they did would help handle a natural disaster, while 35% felt nothing they did would help them in an act of terrorism.

We need to inform individuals that if they take certain protective actions in the first 5 minutes of a disaster, whether it’s an act of terrorism, a chemical release, that sort of thing, whether it’s an accident, certain things can improve the quality of life.

We also need to couple a national voice with local specificity. National leaders must be strong advocates, but local leadership is critical to insure that people are getting more prepared.

Preparedness requires local information on their hazards, alerts, and community response protocols. It’s not enough to say "Go make a plan and find out your school’s evacuation plan", you need to give them that website and provide them those details to just take them a step further to make sure they are better prepared for disasters in that area.

We also need to stress the importance of social networks—neighborhoods, workplace, schools, and faith-based. We really found that in the event of a disaster, people are dependent a lot on their household members first, and then emergency personnel. People really are relying on the people around them, in the household and in their neighborhoods.

Workplaces, as I just mentioned, is really the emphasis for participation in drills and exercises so we should really work through our social networks to encourage better preparedness.

[Slide 14]

That’s it for what I have right now. Thank you for your time and I’m looking forward to your questions.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Nicole. Now, to proceed to our Q&A.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Amy Sebring: I think you mentioned one of the differences between the 2007 and the 2009 surveys. Are there any other significant differences, other than the H1N1 perhaps?

Nicole Vincent: No, for the most part, it is the same because that allows us to compare and to see if we’re getting the same types of responses from 2007. The main difference was the H1N1. We added 2 questions on how familiar they were in terms of how to get information related to H1N1 and then who were they getting that information from.

What we’re doing, in addition to our general analysis, is we’re analyzing any type of data that refers to disease outbreaks or H1N1 and we’re doing a pre and post analysis to see if there were any teases, if we were running the survey in the middle of an event. It actually provided a really good opportunity to see what an event like that could do to people’s knowledge and behaviors related to disease outbreaks.

Rocky Lopes: My goodness, I have observed the same types of results from formal and informal surveys over the past 30 years. Do any of the results surprise you?

Nicole Vincent: We were not that surprised. We did a survey in 2003 and we found a lot of the similar things.

Amy Sebring: Were you surprised in the drop in some of the preparedness and so forth?

Nicole Vincent: We were surprised by that. We’ll see what happens in 2009. It goes up a little bit. It’s almost a trend. We were surprised by comparing some of the urban to the national that some areas were less prepared than you think they would be. New York was a little less prepared than the national for a number of hazards.

Yvette James: Can you describe the economic characteristics of the people questioned in the sample?

Nicole Vincent: We had a range of income from $25,000 and below and I believe $75,000 and above. What we did when we got the data was, we waited. We gave different people different numbers of points and we matched that up to the census population so that we’re getting more of a clear picture of the U.S. population. We really had a range between $25,000 and below and $75,000 and above.

Amy Sebring: Did you contrast any of the results between those economic statuses?

Nicole Vincent: We did. I can talk about it a little bit. For the most part, what we found is that individuals with higher incomes appeared to be more prepared. They were more likely to have kits, more likely to participate in drills and exercises, and they were more likely to volunteer, I believe.

Dale Shipley: Can you conclude from your survey what activities have a positive impact on getting people to take action?

Nicole Vincent: One thing that we found that seems to be sticking out is, we asked a few questions relative to volunteers, and we asked whether they had volunteered for an organization (such as the Red Cross or Neighborhood Watch) and whether they volunteered after a disaster. We found that those that volunteered after a disaster really were much more prepared. That was one of the things that popped us for us.

There was a link to workplaces and to schools, as well. Doing the drills at home is, as I think everyone would expect, much lower. That’s why we’re trying to emphasize the social network—doing it through work and school and that sort of thing.

Joseph Allen: You said we should have realistic expectations with respect to how fast local first responders can get to us in an emergency. I have seen figures that suggest that we should plan to be self sufficient for up to 3 days. Would you agree with that?

Nicole Vincent: I don’t think I’m in a position to answer that. All I can really do is speak to the research.

Michael Walter: How would the surveys reflect the difference between urban populations and rural ones? The UASI part of the surveys were very useful for urban centers, but how would the research correlate to non-urban areas?

Nicole Vincent: We collected data on people from rural, urban, or suburban areas. In 2007, in relation to those, we found that residents in urban areas appeared to be less engaged in preparedness activities. Suburban respondents were a little more likely to report volunteering. Rural areas were a little bit in between.

Suburban, in 2007, appeared to be the most prepared, while urban appeared less prepared, and rural was somewhere in between.

Isabel McCurdy: Are you looking at the economic crisis of today and how it is affecting personal preparedness?

Nicole Vincent: That’s something that we might consider. We pretty much just got the data for 2009 and we’re looking to apply all sorts of contextual issues to it. That is something we might look into for 2009.

Skip Booren: Did you observe any trends with regard to individuals who were prepared? I am hoping there may be some best practices emerging regarding encouraging preparedness beyond individuals' economic situation.

Nicole Vincent: I think the major thing, as I mentioned before, the trends that we saw for individuals who were prepared, were that they volunteered for a disaster and that they were participating in drills and exercises and that sort of thing through various social networks.

Yvette James: Based upon the results of your surveys, how should outreach programs shape their initiatives based upon the income characteristics of the population?

Nicole Vincent: We do not focus too much on income. I’m aware of the efforts that Citizen Corps is doing. We’re created templates for presentations, individual household plans, that sort of thing, that help guide local councils to install the information themselves, and then locally.

Rocky Lopes: Have you seen the National Disaster Preparedness Survey by Dr. Linda Bourque and Dr. Dennis Mileti, released in December, 2008, that revealed of all the disaster preparedness activities undertaken, that the process of "milling" is most effective in moving people along the preparedness continuum. Are there plans for offering tips to preparedness educators on how to entice people "to mill"? I am speaking about this survey and giving such suggestions at the NCCP 2009 conference in a workshop on August 12.

Nicole Vincent: I believe what Rocky is speaking about is the START survey, which is from DHS Center of Excellence from the University of Maryland [See .] I was actually there at the press release and we worked with START some, so I am familiar with that.

The term "milling" refers to pretty much the process of seeking information. We actually considered adding a whole section in the survey on milling, but unfortunately the survey was already pretty long.

We may not address milling using these survey results, but we’re definitely talking about looking into milling in other research efforts, whether it’s in one of our Citizen Preparedness Reviews or that sort of thing. The survey was just too long to add a whole section on milling.

Rick Heers: Over what period of time were the surveys done? In southwest Florida, our people are much more prepared during the hurricane season. Our local EOC has been helpful in establishing a line of communication and responsibility with our rural area of Collier County.

Nicole Vincent: The 2007 was fielded from July-November of 2007. The 2009 was fielded in April and May of 2009.

Lori Wieber: Was there any aspect to the survey that looked at readiness of subgroups such as pet owners? And if so what did it reveal? If not, are there plans to include that in future surveys or do you know of others who have done such work?

Nicole Vincent: We did have some questions on pet owners in 2007. What we try to do is try to see is what comes out as being very significant, and they didn’t appear to differ too much from the national population. We are looking into it a little bit deeper and maybe creating a short paper just on that. We collected that data in 2007. In 2009, we actually did not collect that data.

In 2007, the survey ran about 20 minutes. We had such a large sample, and there were so many factors that we’re still going through data, and creating different papers, different short things talking about certain answers. Hopefully that will be coming soon.

Amy Sebring: Could you elaborate a little bit on disability findings?

Nicole Vincent: For the most part, we found that individuals with disabilities and those who reported caring for individuals with disabilities were not any more prepared than the national average.

Amy Sebring: Were you surprised that 20% of your sample reported a disability that would affect their response?

Nicole Vincent: I don’t know that we were surprised by 20%, that is a large number, but we were somewhat surprised that they hadn’t taken any additional steps than the national average, considering that they have special needs.

Amy Sebring: Was that addressed in the 2003 survey as well?

Nicole Vincent: Not as extensively as 2007.

Amy Sebring: I assume you’re keeping that in the 2009.

Nicole Vincent: Yes.

Yvette James: Did the surveys include different ethnic groups and questions about cultural beliefs on preparedness?

Nicole Vincent: It did include different ethnic groups. We had pretty much the standard set of ethnic groups. But it didn’t ask about cultural beliefs related to preparedness.

Michael Walter: Did the surveys address whether or not respondents had experienced a natural disaster? For instance, here in San Diego County, residents who experienced the 2003 or 2007 wildfires tend to have a more realistic perception of the threat.

Nicole Vincent: No, it didn’t. It didn’t ask about familiarity or personal experience with disasters.

Dale Shipley: Referring back to ethnic groups - are there any conclusions?

Nicole Vincent: We have general findings. We found that black respondents were more likely to perceive a higher risk that a disaster would actually happen than white respondents. Despite the higher perception of the threat of a disaster, black respondents were less likely than white respondents to have prepared a disaster kit.

There’s so much, but that’s just a nugget. One other piece is non-Hispanic respondents were more likely to be prepared across a number of measures including having certain supplies in their kits, having put important financial and insurance documents in a safe place, and volunteering time to preparedness groups. Hispanics were more likely to cite lack of time as a barrier to being prepared for disasters.

Rocky Lopes: How do you plan to use the survey results to guide future Citizen Corps efforts?

Nicole Vincent: I’m not sure. I can tell you a little piece of what our office is working to support Citizen Corps in using these results.

We’re developing certain tools for councils. One example is we’re developing a media toolkit for councils. That will hopefully address some issues in terms of communicating and talking with the media about putting preparedness in a frame of shared responsibility in that individuals really need to be responsible. From our results we’re seeing that they really are relying on emergency responders too much.

Amy Sebring: Question for the audience: I’m wondering if we’re not, by trying to come across as responders or response organizations that are confident, that we haven’t maybe inflated public expectations about how much assistance is going to be out there?

H Davis Tubre: Is there any emphasis on specific planning efforts in areas prone to certain disaster occurrences, such as hurricanes on the coasts, tornados in the Midwest, earthquakes in the West, to better prepare persons in those specific occurrences?

Nicole Vincent: I know for sure there is a focus on urban areas (UASIS—the Urban Area Security Initiatives). In terms of Citizen Corps, I think we really do try to cover as much area as possible. Each council, each area, and each council within their FEMA region, do have their own initiative, they do shape their own thing.

I don’t have any knowledge in terms of focusing on hurricane prone areas and that sort of thing in terms of what Citizen Corps is doing.

Yvette James: I am new to the field, but from what I have learned, yes we have over sold the concept.

Rocky Lopes: I am just concerned that nothing has changed very much... we keep trying hard to push preparedness.

Nicole Vincent: We know that. The term "pushing the needle," trying to create a culture for preparedness, it’s going to take time and it is all behavior based. We all know that changing behaviors is something that doesn’t happen quickly.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thank you very much Nicole for an excellent job, and we hope you enjoyed it.

Nicole Vincent: Thank you, everybody, and I encourage you to check out You can check up on the various research materials we have up there, and also information on the conference.

Amy Sebring: Please stand by just a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements.

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Thanks to everyone for participating today. We stand adjourned.