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Most Americans are unprepared to cope with a disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency found in a survey, so the nation’s disaster relief agency is taking a new approach to prod people into taking at least one step to prepare.
Starting with an ad campaign launched Thursday, FEMA will devote a month to encouraging people to create a plan to communicate and locate family members in an emergency.
The federal government had tried since the 2001 terror attacks to nudge Americans to learn their community’s disaster risks, develop emergency plans, stock supplies and get involved in community disaster response.
Less than 40% of all Americans have an emergency plan, and just 29% updated their supplies in the past year, according to a survey to be made public Thursday. About half said they had some sort of supplies set aside, such as packaged food and bottled water, but less than a third reported having a first-aid kit.
The survey found little progress since the research began in 2007.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate says the government may have set the bar so high that people feared getting prepared would be expensive and time-consuming. So this year, Fugate says, FEMA will ask families to complete just one task: a family communication plan.
“One of the biggest stressors in an emergency is not knowing if family members are OK,” Fugate said. “A family communication plan doesn’t cost anything and takes very little time.”
Such a plan, while indispensable in a major disaster such as a hurricane, tornado or earthquake, may also be useful for more everyday emergencies such as a school lockdown or a public transportation delay, Fugate said. Guides for creating a plan are available at the government’s www.ready.gov website.
Fugate said he hopes the discussion will spur more steps toward disaster preparedness.
“If you can get people to even think about what they would do in a disaster – knowing what to do and being ready to act — they are more likely to have a better outcome,” he said. “Once we start that conversation, it leads to the next question.”
After the communication plan, Fugate suggests a scavenger hunt around the house for disaster supplies a family may already have. It’s not necessary, for example, to stock store-bought bottled water, he says. Just fill clean milk jugs with tap water.
The ad campaign includes public service announcements for radio and TV and print advertising for newspapers, designed free by advertising agency Deutsch Inc. and the Ad Council. The TV ads depict a couple with three children huddled together at a shelter while another couple tries frantically to locate their missing son. The ads will run in September, designated National Preparedness Month.
Each week during the month, emergency management officials nationwide will promote a different preparedness theme in their communities, including how to build an emergency kit and how to practice for an emergency.
The month-long push ends with “National PrepareAthon Day” on Sept. 30, when cities across the country will host community-wide disaster-planning events.
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