On the heels of two mild storm seasons, Americans in Gulf and Atlantic coastal states are still complacent and unprepared for hurricanes according to a new Mason-Dixon poll released Thursday. The poll shows some residents of hurricane-vulnerable states say they will not evacuate and prefer to weather storms at home.
Many residents lack disaster plans, and many are still misinformed about how to protect themselves and their families during a storm. The poll shows even many of the residents who live within 30 miles of the coast fail to take proper precautions.
“We have learned that everyone has a role to play and a responsibility to prepare to the best of their ability,” Florida Governor Charlie Crist said at the 2008 Governor’s Hurricane Conference. “We know that we must stand together in order to be prepared for future storms that may come our way.”
The Mason-Dixon poll was commissioned by American Initiatives, an organization that today launched the 2008 National Hurricane Survival Initiative at a news conference at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla. The initiative aims to educate residents living in hurricane-vulnerable states about the risks they face and the steps they must take to protect themselves and minimize damage.
“The devastating storms of 2004 and 2005 exposed how many residents are unprepared for hurricanes,” said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center. “Three years later, too many residents are denying that this could ever happen to them. This could be a fatal mistake. The time to prepare is now – not when a hurricane is threatening your area.”
Among the poll results emergency management officials find most alarming are these:
• 54% don’t feel vulnerable to a hurricane or related tornado or flooding,
• 56% have no family disaster plan,
• 67% have no hurricane survival kit,
• 85% have taken no steps to make their homes stronger since the last hurricane season,
• 13% said they might not or would not evacuate even if ordered to do so, leaving thousands of residents at grave risk in the path of any given storm.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicts the 2008 hurricane season will be a near normal or above normal Atlantic Hurricane Season. NOAA anticipates 12-16 named storms, 6-9 becoming hurricanes, of which 2-5 could become major hurricanes of category 3 strength or higher.
The poll is one of the leading elements of the National Hurricane Survival Initiative – a public education and safety outreach partnership that includes the National Hurricane Center, The National Emergency Management Association and The Salvation Army. Corporate partners in the project include Plylox and Travelers Insurance.
Other elements of this year’s initiative are an informative and interactive Web site, www.HurricaneSafety.org, and a 30-minute television program, “Hurricane Survival 2008.” The television program will be broadcast throughout hurricane season on more than 50 television network-affiliate stations and secondary broadcasts on cable and government access channels from Texas to Maine. Residents are encouraged to visit www.HurricaneSafety.org for a list of broadcast partners or to check their local listings for air dates and times.
“We’ve all seen pictures of the massive devastation hurricanes can leave behind,” said Ray Stone, vice president of Catastrophe Operations at Travelers. “If you own a home or business, now is the time to make sure you have the proper coverage to rebuild your property and to replace all the contents inside. Don’t wait until a hurricane is bearing down to question your coverage. It’s a simple call to your carrier or your agent.”
The poll revealed several concerns about the adequacy of homeowners’ insurance coverage:
• Nearly one in four may not have replacement coverage.
• 45% said they have not reviewed their insurance policies with an agent within the last year, some in more than five years.
• 38% of residents did not know their standard homeowner’s policies do not cover flooding.
• 27% thought their homeowner’s insurance covered flood damage, and another 20% weren’t sure. In fact, flood damage is only covered if homeowners purchase a separate flood insurance policy, such as that offered by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program.
The survey revealed residents of hurricane-vulnerable states still have significant gaps in their knowledge of hurricanes and storm preparedness, including:
• 68% didn’t know storm surge represents the greatest potential for a large loss of life from a hurricane, yet the rising waters can account for deaths as far inland as 20 miles.
• 68% of residents also mistakenly believe most tornadoes occur in the eye wall or within three miles of the eye of the storm. In fact, tornadoes can result hundreds of miles from the eye of the storm, affecting residents far from the coast.
• 79% do not know storm intensity at landfall is the least reliable forecasting projection, indicating they may not realize a category 1 or 2 storm can become a category 4 or 5 at landfall.
• 95% didn’t know garage doors are the part of a home most likely to fail during a hurricane, yet garage doors can be easily strengthened at a modest cost with a reinforcement kit.
• 56% still believe candles belong in survival kits. To the contrary, candles and kerosene lamps pose a fire hazard, and so emergency experts recommend flashlights instead.
• More than half of those polled believed masking tape would keep windows from shattering, though masking tape actually offers no protection at all.
“One gust of a hurricane-force wind is all it takes to break a window, leaving your property unprotected from wind and water damage,” said Rob Fee, president of Plylox.
“By boarding your windows, reinforcing your garage door, and moving outdoor furniture inside, you can improve the likelihood your property will survive a hurricane unharmed.”
Emergency officials recommend taking steps to strengthen your home or business before storm season begins, yet the poll found that residents wait too long to make last-minute preparations to their structures:
• 20% indicated they would not begin to prepare their homes until hurricane conditions are 24 to 36 hours away, and another 30% said they would not prepare their home until hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours.
• 20% surveyed believe it is the government’s responsibility to provide essential supplies in the first few days after a hurricane, and 7 percent aren’t sure who should be responsible. Experts recommend keeping supplies for at least three days on hand for each member of the family and buying those supplies long before a storm approaches.
“All residents must take personal responsibility and arm themselves with at least three days worth of food, water and medicine,” said Major Todd Hawks, National Public Affairs Secretary and Associate Community Relations and Development Secretary for The Salvation Army. “Relief organizations will work hard to help those in the most dire circumstances first, so all residents must be prepared to sustain themselves for several days if necessary.”
The survey also found many residents will not take the proper safety precautions:
• 17% would not evacuate until a storm is 12-24 hours from landfall
• 26% would travel as far as possible, trying to outrun the path of the storm. These factors increase the chances of evacuees getting stuck in traffic gridlock. Emergency management officials recommend arranging to stay, in advance, with the nearest friend or relative outside the evacuation area or going to the nearest certified shelter.
• 12% of residents surveyed are responsible for an elderly or disabled person, yet a quarter of them say they have no plan for that person in the event of a hurricane.
“Every resident of a hurricane-vulnerable state should have a disaster plan that includes special arrangements for pets and elderly or disabled family members,” said Craig Fugate, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Being prepared is every resident’s obligation.”
While the poll findings showed two out of three residents lack a survival kit, most respondents possess many of the elements of a kit, but those items – including a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, radio and other items – are not in a single location quickly accessible during an emergency.
“Preparation is the best defense in a disaster,” said Ron Sachs, executive producer of the National Hurricane Survival Initiative, created jointly by CoreMessage and Ron Sachs Communications. “As hurricane season looms, residents should make sure they have a disaster plan for themselves and their families, prepare a survival kit and heed all safety warnings from officials. Their lives may depend on it.”
Finally, the danger is not over after a storm passes. Typically, more deaths occur after a hurricane due to downed power lines, unstable trees and flooding. Disaster experts warn residents should wait until officials declare an area safe before they return, yet:
• 53% of those polled said they would not wait for word from officials before heading home.
• 29% would return to a hurricane-ravaged area as soon as the storm passed, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk.
The survey was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of 1,100 adults in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states between May 6 and May 12, 2008. The margin for error is plus or minus 3 percent.
For the full poll results and more information about the 2008 National Hurricane Survival Initiative, visit www.HurricaneSafety.org.
For any questions regarding poll methodology, please contact Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research at 904-261-2444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.