Most Americans are not
prepared for a public health crisis, and many who were previously prepared
have let their readiness lapse, according to results of a new poll released
today. With lagging preparedness levels and more than 30 local disasters
federally declared each year, the American Public Health Association (APHA)
convened experts for a roundtable discussion to examine the nation’s
preparedness in the wake of recent health emergencies.
The roundtable kicked off this year’s National Public Health Week,
which focuses on preparedness, and featured officials from the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the American Red Cross; and state and
local officials who responded to public health disasters in recent months:
the Rhode Island meningitis outbreak and the Denver snow storm.
Among the poll’s key findings:
— Almost 90 percent of the general public say they have not taken enough
steps to prepare for a public health crisis and know they could do
— While 40 percent of the public have taken steps in the past to prepare
for emergencies, they admit to not maintaining their preparedness
— Many people believe that they are more prepared than they actually are.
“Today’s findings indicate we still have a long way to go to improve
the nation’s readiness for public health emergencies,” said Georges C.
Benjamin, MD, FACP, APHA executive director. “No one can predict where the
next natural disaster, major storm or disease outbreak will strike, but
when it does, it is likely to disrupt basic services, leaving people
without electricity, water, food or needed medications, and we all need to
To address this issue and to encourage Americans to retake important
first steps toward preparedness, APHA unveiled today an online preparedness
assessment tool with an accompanying checklist, available at
“During emergencies, individuals and communities who are better
prepared tend to fare better than those who are less prepared,” said HHS
Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral John Agwunobi, MD, MPH, MBA. “Unless
you have lived through a disaster, individuals might not realize the
significance of public health concerns following a disaster as citizens
struggle to fulfill every day needs.”
CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, added, “Preparing for
emergencies requires expert planning and coordination by public health and
safety officials. But it also requires that all Americans take simple steps
to ensure that they have a supply of food, water and medicine, a reliable
first aid kit and a plan to find loved ones if communication and
transportation networks are disrupted or returning home is impossible.”
Colorado officials discussed health emergencies ranging from those who
did not have enough non-perishable food on hand to people who could not get
their medications and medical services. In Rhode Island, officials had to
shut down numerous schools for two days, forcing 20,000 children to stay
Other poll results reveal that many vulnerable subgroups of the general
public — who are particularly at risk in the event of an emergency — lag
behind where they should be on preparedness, including the following:
— 58 percent of mothers of children age five and younger do not have a
three-day supply of water on hand for their family;
— Only 61 percent of people with chronic health conditions have at least
a two-week supply of medications; and,
— Only 18 percent of employers say they could continue to pay all their
employees if there were an interruption in operations, and only 15
percent of hourly workers have saved enough money to provide for their
family in such an event.
To find the full results of the national poll, which was commissioned
by APHA and conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc., or to
access APHA’s online preparedness assessment tool and view a checklist of
simple steps that everyone can take to prepare, visit nphw.
A webcast of this event is provided by kaisernetwork, a free service of
the Kaiser Family Foundation, and will be available after 9 a.m. EDT, April
3, 2007 at kaisernetwork/healthcast/apha/02apr07 and
nphw. Along with the webcast, a transcript will also be
Also taking part in the panel were Stephanie B. Coursey Bailey, MD, MS,
chief, Office of Public Health Practice, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention; Darlene Washington, DPM, director of preparedness, American Red
Cross; David Gifford, MD, MPH, director, Rhode Island Public Health
Department; Rosemary Hunter, principal, Greenwood Elementary School,
Warwick, R.I.; Robin K. Koons, PhD, emergency response coordinator,
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE); and
Christopher E. Urbina, MD, MPH, director, Denver Public Health Department.
Moderating the panel was retired NBC News correspondent Robert Hager, a
veteran of disaster coverage.
Founded in 1872, the American Public Health Association (APHA) is the
oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health
professionals in the world. The association works to protect all Americans
and their communities from preventable, serious health threats. APHA
represents a broad array of health officials, educators, environmentalists,
policy-makers and health providers at all levels working both within and
outside governmental organizations and educational institutions. For more
information about APHA, visit apha. Additional information
on National Public Health Week may be found at nphw.
About Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc.
Founded in 1971, Peter D. Hart Research Associates is one of the
leading survey research firms in the United States and has been at the
cutting edge of change in the field of public opinion for more than three
decades. In that time, we have conducted well over 5,000 public opinion
surveys and have administered and analyzed interviews among more than three
million individuals. We have also undertaken more than 5,000 focus group
sessions. For more information on Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc.,
American Public Health Association