Most Americans Think Devastating Natural Disasters Are Increasing

    NEW YORK, N.Y. – July 7, 2011 – Reading or watching the news, one might be struck by the seemingly constant barrage of reports of disasters, both natural in origin and not. In fact, some colleges and universities have begun offering coursework in emergency and disaster management, as these impactful and unplanned events continue to shape our world. When Americans were asked if they think that there have been more devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes recently, three quarters of U.S. adults say there have been more (76%) with three in ten saying there have been much more (31%); only 2% say there have been less and 23% say there have been neither more nor less.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,163 adults surveyed online between June 13 and 20, 2011.

    Despite a large majority reporting an increase in devastating disasters, only 56% say they are prepared for one of these disasters or a long-term power outage by having the necessary supplies, food and water for three days. Conversely two in five Americans say they are not prepared in this way (41%), although older Americans overall are better prepared than those younger: two thirds of Matures, aged 66 years and older, say they are prepared for a disaster or long-term power outage (67%), compared to 59% of Baby Boomers, aged 47-65, 54% of Gen X, aged 35-46 and fewer than half of Echo Boomers, aged 18-34 (45%).

    Types of Disasters and Government Readiness

    Americans are concerned about different disasters, particularly depending on where they live. While half of Americans say they think a tornado (52%) or a snow and/or ice storm (48%) will impact them, the numbers vary greatly by region. Some regional concerns are:

    • Easterners think that a snow and/or ice storm will be most likely to directly impact them (77%) and while Midwesterners are concerned about this as well (79%), an even greater number say they believe tornados will impact them (89%);
    • Southerners are also concerned about tornados (66%) yet half say they are concerned about hurricanes (54%) or droughts (50%);
    • Those in the West believe earthquakes will impact them (66%), which is a concern shared by very few in all other regions (between 7% and 16%);
    • Although only 11% of Americans think a nuclear power plant disaster or meltdown will affect them directly, it is the only issue listed that most people say the federal government is worst equipped to handle (59%). One third say the government is worst equipped to handle terrorism (34%), which is down from the 48% who said this in 2006; and
    • In 2006, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, half of Americans (50%) said that the federal government was worst equipped to handle hurricanes. Five years later just 16% believe this.

    Information about emergencies

    Half of Americans say they are most likely to get information about emergencies on television (51%) while fewer than one in five say they get information from the radio (18%). Just over one in ten get information about emergencies from online news sites (13%) and significantly fewer get information from other people (4%), Facebook (3%), text messages (2%), newspapers (2%), Twitter (1%) or something else (1%). Different generations access information about emergencies differently: the older one is the more likely they are to get their information on TV, while the younger one is the more likely they are to get information from an online source (a news site, Facebook or Twitter).

    Global Warming

    Asked this month, the Harris Poll finds the lowest number who believe in global warming since the question was first asked in 1997 (44% now do, down from 51% in 2009 and 71% in 2007). These numbers do not suggest, however, that a majority now do not believe in global warming-just over one-quarter say they do not believe in it (28%) and the same number say they are not sure. Fittingly, among those who say there have been more natural disasters recently, there is no consensus whether this is a result of global warming or not (38% say it is, 28% say it’s not and 34% are not sure).

    So What?

    The world around us is changing-disasters seem to strike more frequently than before and individually each one seems more impactful in nature. What Americans today seem unsure of, however, is how to prepare for these unexpected events, and what is causing them. Luckily with today’s confluence of research, experience and modern day technology for communication, while we may not be able to stop natural-born disasters, we may be able to work together to significantly limit their tragic results.

     

    TABLE 1

    PREPAREDNESS FOR LONG TERM POWER OUTAGE

    Now, thinking about you and your household, how prepared are you for a long-term power outage or a disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, flood, wildland fire or terrorist attack by having the necessary supplies, including extra food and water for three days?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Generation

    April 2007

    June 2011

    Echo Boomers (18-34)

    Gen X (35-46)

    Baby Boomers (47-65)

    Matures (66+)

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    PREPARED (NET)

    58

    56

    45

    54

    59

    67

    Very prepared

    14

    12

    11

    12

    11

    15

    Somewhat prepared

    44

    44

    33

    41

    48

    52

    NOT PREPARED (NET)

    40

    41

    49

    43

    40

    32

    Not too prepared

    27

    26

    32

    25

    24

    22

    Not at all prepared

    13

    16

    16

    18

    16

    11

    Not sure

    2

    3

    7

    3

    1

     

    Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 2

    GET INFORMATION ABOUT EMERGENCIES

    Where are you most likely to get information about emergencies?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Generation

    Echo Boomers (18-34)

    Gen X (35-46)

    Baby Boomers (47-65)

    Matures (66+)

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Television

    51

    41

    46

    54

    64

    Radio

    18

    10

    21

    23

    16

    Online news sites

    13

    20

    15

    10

    7

    Other people

    4

    7

    5

    3

    2

    Facebook postings or newsfeed

    3

    6

    4

    1

    1

    Text messages

    2

    2

    2

    2

    2

    Newspapers

    2

    1

    1

    2

    3

    Twitter postings

    1

    3

     

     

    Other

    1

    1

    3

    1

    2

    Not sure

    5

    9

    3

    4

    4

    Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 3

    DISASTERS WITH MOST DIRECT IMPACT

    Which three of the following do you believe are most likely to directly impact you?

    Base: All adults

    Total 2006

    Total 2011

    Region

    East

    Midwest

    South

    West

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Tornados

    46

    52

    31

    89

    66

    10

    Snow and/or ice storms

    45

    48

    77

    79

    25

    26

    Drought

    39

    34

    18

    19

    50

    37

    Hurricanes

    27

    30

    40

    2

    54

    7

    Floods

    35

    28

    29

    36

    23

    25

    Terrorism

    39

    25

    36

    26

    14

    30

    Earthquakes

    20

    22

    7

    16

    8

    66

    Wildfires

    24

    21

    6

    3

    24

    49

    Nuclear power plant disaster or meltdown

    NA

    11

    22

    11

    7

    8

    Mudslides

    4

    2

    1

     

     

    7

    Note: Multiple-response question; NA indicates it was not asked in that year.

     

    TABLE 4

    GOVERNMENT WORST EQUIPPED TO HANDLE

    Which two of these issues do you believe the federal government is currently worst equipped to handle?

    Base: All adults

    Total 2006

    Total 2011

    Region

    East

    Midwest

    South

    West

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Nuclear power plant disaster or meltdown

    NA

    59

    62

    65

    58

    51

    Terrorism

    48

    34

    34

    37

    34

    30

    Earthquakes

    26

    25

    23

    26

    24

    28

    Hurricanes

    50

    16

    12

    20

    16

    17

    Drought

    18

    13

    10

    10

    15

    17

    Tornados

    11

    11

    13

    10

    10

    13

    Wildfires

    9

    11

    10

    7

    13

    12

    Floods

    24

    11

    9

    11

    11

    13

    Snow and/or ice storms

    7

    5

    7

    5

    3

    6

    Mudslides

    8

    4

    5

    3

    5

    3

    Note: Multiple-response question; NA indicates it was not asked in that year.

     

    TABLE 5

    MORE OR LESS DISASTERS RECENTLY

    Do you think that there have been more devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes recently, than there were previously?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    %

    More (NET)

    76

    Much more

    31

    Somewhat more

    44

    Neither more nor less

    23

    Less (NET)

    2

    Somewhat less

    2

    Much less

     

    Note: Percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 6

    BELIEF IN GLOBAL WARMING

    Do you believe the theory that increased carbon dioxide and other gases released into the atmosphere will, if unchecked lead to global warming and an increase in average temperatures, or not?

    Base: All Adults

     

    1997

    2000

    2001

    2002

    2007

    2009

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Believe

    67

    72

    75

    74

    71

    51

    44

    Do not believe

    21

    20

    19

    19

    23

    29

    28

    Not sure

    12

    9

    6

    7

    6

    21

    28

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 7

    ARE DISASTERS THE RESULT OF GLOBAL WARMING

    Do you think that the increase in devastating natural disasters is a result of global warming/climate change, or not?

    Base: Adults who think there have been more devastating natural disasters recently

     

    Total

    %

    Result of global warming/climate change

    38

    Not a result of global warming/climate change

    28

    Not at all sure

    34

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 13 to 20, 2011 among 2,163 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    J40315

    Q755, 760, 765, 770, 775, 780, 785

    The Harris Poll® #81, July 7, 2011

    By Samantha Braverman, Sr. Project Researcher