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Millions in the US Could Face Medical Crisis in a Disaster, According to a New Survey

More than half of people foresee an uptick in the severity of disasters

News

Extreme Weather

Kentucky flooding, 2022. Photo: Kentucky National Guard

Devastating disasters this summer have again taken the United States by storm, with wildfires forcing tens of thousands to evacuate, flooding washing away entire towns, and extreme heat maxing out power grids and threatening people who rely on medical devices.

According to a newly released survey commissioned by Direct Relief, most people (53%) expect disasters to get worse where they live but are largely unprepared for these increasingly severe and frequent emergencies.

With more than half of Americans foreseeing an uptick in the severity of disasters, thinking through a preparedness plan is critical.

Medications and medical conditions

Many Americans either take medication or have an ongoing medical condition, and findings suggest a significant portion of these people would either have difficulty continuing their medications or finding aid for their illness during an emergency.

  • Three in four people (76%) would worry about their health if they could not access their medications during an emergency, and concern increases with age. Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) people 77 or older would worry if they couldn’t access their medications in an emergency; yet, a little more than a third (37%) say that they would have a week (7 days) or less of medication on hand if they had to evacuate right now.
  • Over seven in 10 (72%) Americans do not have a backup supply of critical medications, and nearly eight in 10 (78%) do not have accessible medical records and copies of prescription information.
  • One in two (50%) Americans have not put their medical documents online in case they lose access to other forms of documentation during an emergency.
  • Americans, on average, ranked their medication refills as their third most pressing concern (M=5.14) and getting access to medical care as their fifth most pressing concern (M=4.49), while people aged 65+ ranked medication refills as their second most pressing concern – above their pets.
  • About half (47%) of Americans with a chronic medical condition (N=1,736) would not know where to access medication during an emergency.

Power and health

Power outages are of concern to 94% of respondents who indicated they or someone in their household relies on medical equipment or appliances that require running electricity.

  • Just over a third (34%) of respondents said they or someone in their household relies on medical equipment or appliances that would not be able to function without electricity. Yet, only 23% reported having a backup generator.
  • The percentage of people with generators is uneven nationwide, with people in Louisiana (46%) and Florida (28%) more than two times as likely as Californians (13%) to own a generator.

Income disparities

Higher-income people have more access to the resources they need if an emergency arises. Survey data gleans the specifics on ways income disparities between higher and lower-income households affect people throughout the US.

Lower-income households were less likely to have an emergency supply of non-perishable food and cash. They also were more likely to report having smaller stockpiles of medication and to say their homes don’t have enough space to stockpile for an emergency.

  • Almost three in five (58%) Americans in households making less than $50,000 each year (N=887) say they do not have a 3-day supply of non-perishable food. In contrast, 56% of Americans in households making $100,000 or more per year (N=359) say they have a 3-day supply of non-perishable food for emergencies.
  • 72% of Americans in households making less than $50,000 annually (N=887) say they do not have cash on hand in case of an emergency. Unsurprisingly, well over one in two (54%) of Americans in households that bring in $100,000 or more per year (N=359) report having emergency cash on hand in case of an emergency.
  • A third (33%) of Americans do not or are not sure they have enough room in their home to stockpile essentials for a potential emergency, but 67% say they do have the space.
  • Four in five (80%) Americans in households that bring in $100,000 or more each year (N=359) claim they have enough room in their home to stockpile essentials for a potential emergency. In comparison, 41% of Americans in households with an income of $50,000 or less (N=887) report they would not, or are not sure whether they would, have enough room in their home to stockpile essentials for a potential emergency.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) Americans do not feel they could rely on their neighbors in an emergency, compared to over half (54%) saying they could depend on their neighbors.
  • Under half (49%) of Americans in households with incomes of less than $50,000 (N=887) feel they could rely on their neighbors in an emergency; however, almost two-thirds (64%) of Americans in households with incomes of $100,000 or greater (N=359) feel they could rely on their neighbors in an emergency.

Evacuation Planning

Findings suggest that many know where to go but don’t have an evacuation plan.

  • Most people in the US (61%) say they would know where to evacuate, and nearly two in five (39%) would not know where they would go if they had to evacuate.
  • About half of people living in the western US (46%; N=720) would not know where to go if they had to evacuate.
  • Americans ranked “identifying escape or evacuation routes” as their top priority when preparing for an impending natural disaster (M=5.58). “Identifying places for shelter if evacuation is not possible” was ranked, on average, as the third highest priority (M=5.35) – just behind having enough water (M=5.46), which ranked second.

Methodology 

Direct Relief commissioned Atomik Research to conduct an online survey of 2,009 Americans across various states with frequent weather-related emergencies (i.e., natural disasters).

Select states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington State.

The margin of error for the overall sample is +/- 2 percentage points with a confidence interval of 95 percent. Fieldwork took place between July 22nd and July 27th, 2022. Atomik Research is an independent market research agency. 

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