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APHA poll: Americans are not ready for public health crises.

Americans are overwhelmingly unprepared for a public health crisis, according to a new national poll from APHA.

The poll, which was released in conjunction with National Public Health Week, found that 87 percent of Americans would not be ready if a public health crisis such as an infectious disease epidemic or foodborne illness outbreak struck their communities tomorrow.

Even among those who have taken steps in the past to prepare--stocking food, buying batteries or putting together a first aid kit--many admitted that they have let their preparedness plans lapse. The poll results were especially striking in light of the increased attention given to preparedness in the United States in the wake of recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. National efforts such as the federal campaign have called attention to the need for average Americans, businesses and communities to prepare for the worst and billions in federal funding has been provided to states to help them prepare. The poll findings came out just months after an informal APHA survey that found that public health workers aren't personally prepared for disasters.

The new poll findings show that "we still have a long way to go to improve the nation's readiness for public health emergencies," according to Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, APHA's 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," Benjamin said.

The poll, which was conducted in February by Peter D. Hart Research Associates on behalf of APHA, found that many people who believe they are prepared actually are not. While 27 percent of respondents said they were ready for a public health crisis--which was defined as a serious event that causes disease, disability or death in groups of people or communities--only 14 percent had an adequate supply of food, water and medication. And fewer than half of the public said they had a disaster supply kit with items such as a flashlight, batteries, a first aid kit and a radio.

While top-level emergency planning such as mass casualty assistance, disease tracking and evacuation warnings require coordination by public health and safety officials, preparedness planning 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," according to Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the event of a disaster such as a hurricane, flood or disease outbreak, people who are already vulnerable will be most affected. But the APHA poll found that such people--who include mothers with young children, hourly wage workers and people with chronic health conditions--are among the least prepared. About 60 percent of mothers with young children said they did not have a three-day supply of water on hand, and only about 19 percent of hourly workers have practiced what to do during an emergency situation at work.

"During emergencies, individuals and communities who are better prepared tend to fare better than those who are less prepared," said John Agwunobi, MD, MPH, MBA, assistant secretary for health with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "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 everyday needs."

Among the other poll results were findings that:

* 57 percent of respondents said they thought a severe storm such as a hurricane, tornado or blizzard could lead to a public health crisis in their community in the next few years, while 47 percent said a crisis from a disease such as the flu is likely and 43 percent thought such a crisis could result from food-borne illness.

* only 37 percent of employers thought a major public health crisis will affect their organization in the next year or two.

* 84 percent of school adminstrators surveyed said they had evacuation plans in place for their schools and 64 percent said they had communications plans to contact students' families in the event of a public health crisis.

The new poll results were released April 2 at a National Public Health Week kick-off event in Washington, D.C. (see Page 3). This year's National Public Health Week, organized by APHA, focused on "Preparedness and Public Health Threats: Addressing the Unique Needs of the Nation's Vulnerable Populations" and urged people to "Take the First Step!" To help Americans prepare, the National Public Health Week Web site contains fact sheets, a readiness assessment tool and a preparedness checklist, among other features.

Beyond National Public Health Week, APHA is helping Americans prepare themselves, their families and their communities for pandemic influenza or other emerging infectious diseases through its Get Ready campaign. The Get Ready effort, online at, includes fact sheets, a blog, podcasts, preparation tips and other information. A free Healthy You tip-sheet on personal preparedness can be downloaded from The Nation's Health at www.

For full National Public Health Week coverage, including highlights of community events held around the nation, see next month's combined June/July issue of The Nation's Health.

For more on National Public Health Week, the national preparedness poll or preparing for emergencies, visit the Web site at or e-mail
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Late, Michele
Publication:The Nation's Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2007
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