Washington, D.C.– 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 more;
While 40 percent of the public have taken steps in the past to prepare for emergencies, they admit to not maintaining their preparedness plans; and,
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 be prepared.”
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 www.nphw.org.
"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 home.
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:
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 www.nphw.org. A webcast of this event is provided by kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and will be available after 9 a.m. EST, April 3, 2007 at http://www.kaisernetwork.org/healthcast/apha/02apr07 and www.nphw.org. Along with the webcast, a transcript will also be available.
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.