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Commentary

Personal Preparedness and Disasters

A general consensus is that in order to survive, individuals will require some degree of self-sufficiency for a period of at least 72 hours following a disaster. As the complexity and diversity of disasters increase, along with more crowded living areas in urban environments, the component of personal preparedness is critical. Strengthening individual preparedness along with adequate preparedness planning contribute to the creation of proactive and resilient communities with decreased vulnerability to extreme events. Research details various factors which play a part in influencing the extent of personal disaster preparedness, including: how likely it is, in their view, they will experience the disaster (risk perception), past experiences with disasters, and various social and cultural characteristics. The challenge is the unclear evidence, creating a complex picture, where even those living in areas affected by many disasters have shown to have low disaster preparedness. The cultural roles of local knowledge and perceptions, rituals, values and norms, gender roles, collective memory, societal cohesion, or trust in authorities all contribute to the multi-faceted factors determining personal preparedness. Preparing for disasters requires an understanding about the nature of the threat, assuming responsibility for preparedness and dealing with the very nature of risk.


Different countries exhibit different approaches towards personal preparedness. Personal preparedness was less developed in China. In Japan, first aid kits are made widely available in everyday settings. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency provides information and funds to state and local governments for their efforts in emergency preparedness. It was reported that 44 percent of families in the United States developed an emergency plan for their family. Positive proactive measures, such as immunization, was found in Israel to depend on the how much people thought they were likely to catching the illness, how serious the illness was perceived, and ease of obtaining the vaccine.


When Sweden's government warned its citizens to prepare for possible power cuts in the winter of 2022, the call for action was clear and included keeping a battery driven radio, flashlights, bottled water and food that is simple to prepare, while designating a room in which the family can stay in order to preserve heat over time. Data from Norway and Sweden show that families cope with blackouts by utilising competences, harnessing past experience, and that this is an ongoing effort to maintain the continuity of everyday activities extreme conditions. 


The role of disaster experience in the context of personal disaster preparedness is not clear. Those who live in areas that prone to natural disasters may be more likely to recognise the existence of the potential threat, make efforts to prevent the consequences of such an event, and to adhere to warnings. Those who experience severe damage and distress due to a disaster may be more attentive to future extreme events, in comparison to those who survived a disaster with minor damage or have no such experience at all. In contrast, surviving a disaster may lead to an optimistic bias when faced with future events.  


You may also be interested in reading a broader piece in by reporter Rob Hastings The disaster awaiting us if a cyber attack cuts all the UK’s electricity (inews.co.uk): With a UK-wide blackout potentially lasting for weeks if the power network is targeted, we examine how a crisis could unfold and why experts are concerned about preparations.


References:


Kohn S, Eaton JL, Feroz S, Bainbridge AA, Hoolachan J, Barnett DJ. Personal Disaster Preparedness: An Integrative Review of the Literature. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. 2012;6(3):217-231. doi:10.1001/dmp.2012.47  


Appleby-Arnold S, Brockdorff N, Jakovljev I, Zdravković S. Disaster preparedness and cultural factors: a comparative study in Romania and Malta. Disasters. 2021 Jul;45(3):664-690. doi: 10.1111/disa.12433. Epub 2020 Nov 6. PMID: 32129915; PMCID: PMC8246757. 


Ning N, Hu M, Qiao J, Liu C, Zhao X, Xu W, Xu W, Zheng B, Chen Z, Yu Y, Hao Y, Wu Q. Factors Associated With Individual Emergency Preparedness Behaviors: A Cross-Sectional Survey Among the Public in Three Chinese Provinces. Front Public Health. 2021 May 21;9:644421. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.644421. PMID: 34095052; PMCID: PMC8175617. 


Teitler-Regev S, Shahrabani S, Benzion U. Factors Affecting Intention among Students to Be Vaccinated against A/H1N1 Influenza: A Health Belief Model Approach. Adv Prev Med. 2011;2011:353207. doi: 10.4061/2011/353207. Epub 2011 Dec 20. PMID: 22229099; PMCID: PMC3249593.  


Swedes should prepare for unprecedented power cuts, government says. (2021, December 21). Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/sweden-poweridUKO9N31600P/


Heidenstrom, N., & Kvarnlöf, L. (2018). Coping with blackouts: A practice theory approach to household preparedness. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management., 26(2), 272–282. 


Sattler DN, Kaiser CF, Hittner JB (2000) Disaster preparedness: relationships among prior experience, personal characteristics, and distress1. J Appl Soc Psychol 30:1396– 1420. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2000.tb02527.x




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