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Do People Become Better Prepared in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster? The Hurricane Ike Experience in Houston, Texas

Chen, Vincent PhD; Banerjee, Deborah PhD; Liu, Leann MD, MS

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: May/June 2012 - Volume 18 - Issue 3 - p 241–249
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e31822d4beb
Research Articles

Objective: Despite large-scale efforts and expensive public education campaigns mounted by the government at all levels in the past decade, the improvements in disaster preparedness among the US Gulf Coast residents have been ineffectual at best. Some factors that contribute to better preparedness are past experience, awareness of what to do in a disaster scenario and availability, and access to informational and supportive resources. We examine whether an experience of a natural disaster brings about changes in preparedness and access to resources.

Design: Our study is based on data from 2 cross-sectional random-digit-dialing surveys in 2008 (pre-Ike) and 2009 (post-Ike) with sample sizes of 1001 and 1009, respectively.

Participants: Adults living in one of the 85 zip codes in Houston, Texas.

Main Outcome Measure: Self-reported preparedness, evacuation plan, available resources (informational, financial and emotional).

Results: We found no significant changes in preparedness or evacuation plans in residents of Houston prior to and a year after Hurricane Ike. Hispanics and other minority groups reported a significant increase in access to information and all residents reported an increase in perception of availability of financial support, if needed. Perceived availability of tangible (financial) support has been linked to positive physical and mental health effects and can contribute to resiliency and quicker recovery. The unchanged preparedness levels could be attributed to ceiling effects, that is, the already high levels of preparedness reported by Houston residents. Greater access to information reported by Hispanics and other minorities is encouraging and indicative of success in reaching out.

Conclusions: Our results also indicate a greater need for appropriate targeted strategies to reach out to African Americans in Houston since this group reported poorer access to information. This has implications for planning and preparedness officials and the communication strategies used to reach the community.

This study examines whether an experience of a natural disaster brings about changes in preparedness and access to resources.

University of Texas School of Public Health, UT Health Science Center, Houston (Dr Chen); Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Houston, Texas (Dr Banerjee); and Community Health Statistics, Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Houston, Texas (Dr Liu).

Correspondence: Vincent Chen, PhD, 21007 James Long Ct, Richmond, TX 77406 (

The authors thank Dr Arafat and Mr Levy in helping them secure funding for the project. They also thank Department of State Health Services, Austin, Texas, and Public Health Emergency Preparedness for providing funding for this project.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.