Coronavirus, hurricanes, wildfires: Many Americans still unprepared for natural disasters, emergencies

NEW YORK — The coronavirus pandemic has been an emergency preparedness wake-up call for many in the United States. Amid the ongoing outbreak however, other disasters are still relentlessly rolling across the country. California continues to battle brutal wildfires, while Hurricane Laura — considered the fifth most powerful hurricane to ever hit the U.S. — left more than two dozen people dead. While some Americans can weather short-term emergencies, a recent survey finds much of the population is not ready for the sort of long-term disasters that may include a loss of basic services and separate families.

An analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey conducted by ValuePenguin finds people who live in areas most prone to natural disasters, such as coastal cities, are generally better prepared than other parts of the country. Even in these places however, some people simply do not have the resources to withstand a disaster. For impoverished populations, the potential loss of life and property is especially hard-hitting.

Lack of insurance is the biggest problem

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), flooding is one of the most common and costly natural hazards across America. Researchers say Houston, having experienced Hurricane Harvey in 2017, is the most disaster-ready large city right now. Miami and Tampa also score high for natural disaster preparedness.

One thing many in these areas who are still at risk have in common however is a lack of disaster insurance. Flooding in high-risk cities like Houston and Miami, where 60 percent of households do not have flood insurance, could catch thousands of uninsured residents in deep water.

The study finds having no flood insurance is actually the norm for most Americans. Just seven percent of households have flood insurance. Even northeastern cities like New York are not exempt from flooding, as was evidenced in 2011 when Hurricane Sandy hit. Just 15 percent of people in the area have flood insurance.

Aside from New York City, which scores on the low end in terms of disaster preparedness, other U.S. cities falling into the least-prepared category include Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

Prepare for the worst when it comes to natural disasters

In an emergency, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, government guidelines call for people to stockpile enough nonperishable food and water to last at least three days. Though 80 percent of Americans have plenty of canned and boxed foods tucked away in their pantries, 40 percent do not have a three-day supply of water for each person in their household.

Although storms commonly knock out electricity, sometimes for extended periods, researchers report most people (61%) have no alternate plan in place if their internet and television services go dark. Rolling blackouts in California are a reminder of emergency power vulnerability, but just 16 percent of Americans own a generator.

Should an evacuation become imminent, about half (53%) of the U.S. population has an emergency kit ready to go out the door with them. Eighty-nine percent of pet owners have a plan for their pets. For those who do evacuate, one important component may be missing. Just 26 percent of families have a preset meet-up place should family members become separated.

Overall, the majority of people (90%) have access to a vehicle for evacuation purposes, but this number drops to just 30 percent in the New York/New Jersey metro area. In these regions, mass transit is the main mode of evacuation.

Whether the emergency is a pandemic or a natural disaster, the FEMA guidelines are the same. Consider alternative ways to communicate without electricity, such as a hand-cranked or battery-powered radio. Put together an emergency kit that includes a flashlight, batteries, cash, all-purpose tools, first-aid supplies, and medications. Keep some forms of identification with you in a safe place in case you can’t return home, such as your Social Security Number and bank routing number.

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