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FEMA Data Digest: National Preparedness Month

October 2021

To learn more about research at FEMA, please visit: https://www.ready.gov/preparedness-research.

Have questions about this data? Contact FEMA at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov

National Household Survey (NHS) Information

2021 NHS Key Findings
Since 2013, FEMA has measured preparedness attitudes and behaviors annually in the nationally representative National Household Survey.  59% have pursued 3 or more of 12 basic preparedness actions; 44% have saved for a rainy day.

Each year, FEMA surveys the public to assess the Nation’s progress in building a culture of preparedness. FEMA also reviews the perceptions and experiences that influence people to take steps to become more prepared. This year, FEMA used phone and web-based surveys to gather responses from over 7,000 people. FEMA gathered responses in English and Spanish.

We are excited to share our key findings with you, as well as to continue sharing hazard-specific key messages throughout the next year. We encourage you to use the information below and incorporate it into any preparedness-related publications or stakeholder outreach.

Based on the 2021 National Household Survey, we’ve identified four opportunities for ways that we can all work to build a culture of preparedness. Continue reading to learn more about ways you can help individuals and communities to prepare.

Join our NHS Webinars to learn more about the results of the 2021 NHS. Click the links below to sign up.

2021 NHS Summary Part I – Key Findings and National Overview

2021 NHS Summary Part II – Hazards and Demographic Summaries

Key Opportunity: #1

Help Build Preparedness Confidence while Awareness and Disaster Experience are High.

Awareness of preparedness and reported disaster experience are up, but confidence to prepare is low.


We observed an increase in the percentage of people living in the United States that have read, seen, or heard disaster information, and an increase in those that experienced a disaster. Yet, preparedness efficacy is low. Fewer people reported feeling confident that that they would be able to prepare and that taking preparedness steps would make a difference. In addition, fewer people have taken more than 3 preparedness actions in 2021, and a feeling of low efficacy may be part of the reason for that.

Peak of self-assessed preparedness was in 2019; substantial rise in awareness and experience in 2021; efficacy and risk perception decreased in 2021
Year Percent who say they feel prepared for a disaster
2017 >42%
2018 52%
2019 59%
2020 51%
2021 44%

Figure 1. Percentages Showing Whether Respondents Felt Prepared Over a 5-Year Span


Definitions for the four preparedness influencers

Bar chart depicting the percentages of preparedness influencers over a 5-year span.
Preparedness Influencers Year Percentage Responding “Yes”
Awareness: Have read, seen, or heard information in the past year about how to get better prepared for a disaster 2017 40%
2018 43%
2019 43%
2020 47%
2021 92%
Hazard Experience: Have personal or familial experience with the impacts of a disaster 2017 43%
2018 44%
2019 44%
2020 47%
2021 54%
High Preparedness Efficacy: Believe that preparing can help in a disaster AND are confident in their abilities to prepare 2017 42%
2018 47%
2019 42%
2020 47%
2021 40%
Risk Perception: Perceived likelihood for a power outage to impact them 2017 36%
2018 98%
2019 98%
2020 98%
2021 76%

Figure 2. Key Influencers to Disaster Preparedness Over a 5-Year Span


Of people that received FEMA disaster assistance:

  • Those that considered themselves “fully prepared” before a disaster were:
    • 65% more likely to be fully recovered within 2 weeks, and
    • 71% more likely to be fully recovered within 2 months.
  • 86% were likely to take steps to prepare for another disaster.
    • Those that said they were unlikely to prepare reported that the following things would help the most to be ready for another disaster:
      • Financial assistance and insurance
      • Structural repairs and modifications
      • Advanced warning
      • More information on how to prepare

What accessible, low- or no-cost ways to prepare can we use to help people regain their confidence in their ability to prepare?


Key Opportunity: #2

Use recognition of risk to motivate preparedness for climate-driven disasters.

About 4 in 5 people (77 to 84%) living in areas prone to droughts, thunderstorms, winter storms, and power outages responded that these climate- and severe-weather-driven disasters would be likely or very likely to impact them.


Climate change can make some disasters more frequent or severe (Source: Fourth National Climate Assessment).

FEMA found that people’s perception of risk is high for four of these climate-driven hazards. Compared to the national sample, people living in climate-driven hazard areas were more likely to report that the disaster would be likely or very likely impact them.


 Chart of hazards and preparedness influencers
Hazard Awareness Disaster Experience Preparedness Efficacy Risk Perception
Climate-Driven Hazards
Drought 42% 40% 37% 77%
Power Outage 45% 81% 43% 80%
Thunderstorm 49% 62% 32% 84%
Winter Storm 59% 81% 44% 81%
Other Hazards
Pandemic 96% 20% 42% 87%
Tsunami 39% 15% 27% 48%
Volcanic Eruption 24% 34% 27% 51%
National Profile 92% 54% 40% 76%

Figure 3. Key Influencers to Disaster Preparedness for 2021 NHS Hazard Oversamples


FEMA created the Power Outage oversample for the NHS using 7 FEMA National Risk Index hazard scores. FEMA interviewed respondents in the top 10 counties for 7 hazards known to cause outages, as well as all of Puerto Rico.

Map of hazards that can cause a power outage

*Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico are not shown above, but are included in the National Household Survey.

Figure 4. Hazards that Can Cause a Power Outage (Graphic based on National Risk Index)


People also reported relatively low perceptions of efficacy (37 to 44%) for these hazards.

FEMA’s Protective Actions Research site defines research-based Protective Actions that individuals can take to prepare for, keep safe during, and recover from a disaster.

Use this research, messaging, and Protective Actions icons to share ways to prepare with your community.


Key Opportunity: #3

Consider the Differing Needs of Historically Underserved Communities.

Historically underserved communities have varying preparedness needs.

Every demographic sampled had unique characteristics, and no community or demographic are fully prepared for everything. Use the NHS to determine how you can make the create effective preparedness promotion strategies to support the communities you serve.

For example:

  • Populations over 60 reported being 44% less likely to practice emergency drills or habits, yet were 46% more likely to document and insure property and 32% more likely to assemble or update supplies compared to individuals aged 18-59.
  • People living in rural areas were 15% more likely to have experienced a disaster and 16% more likely to rate themselves as prepared for a disaster, but 8% less likely to test family communications plans and 9% less likely to sign up for alerts and warnings than those living in urban areas.
  • Households that have a person with a disability or a caregiver consistently took more preparedness actions than those who did not, but over half (53%) of those with a disability or caregiver still felt they were not prepared.

FEMA has programs and publications that different communities can use to prepare. For example, free copies of the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) are available in large print and Braille. FEMA also has preparedness resources in Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, and Traditional and Simplified Chinese available for download or order.

Bulletin board of FEMA Preparedness Products in multiple languages.

Figure 5. Bulletin Board of FEMA Preparedness Products in Different Languages

Consider the unique needs of your community. What preparedness products would help them to prepare?

Download or order free copies today!


Key Opportunity: #4

Bridge the Preparedness Gap with Low or No-Cost Ways to Prepare.

Being socioeconomically disadvantaged has a clear impact on preparedness opportunity, behaviors, and attitudes.


Respondents who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are less likely to have taken cost-driven preparedness actions like saving for a rainy day. However, they are equally likely to have taken less costly actions, such as getting involved with the community. This indicates that while people are willing to prepare, they may not always have the means. Promotion of low or no-cost ways to prepare can empower individuals of all financial circumstances to take preparedness actions.

FEMA uses the Stages of Change (SoC) model and other social science models to guide evidence-based programs and to maximize their impacts. The SoC model measures an individual’s attitude and behavior about preparedness based on the principle that the process of changing an individual’s behavior occurs progressively across five stages. Behavior changes in people can take time, which is why we track the SoC for the Nation over multiple years. Tracking over time allows us to see changes happening at the national level.

For the NHS, FEMA used the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) definition of socioeconomically disadvantaged. Households that are included in the socioeconomically disadvantaged category are households under the poverty line. HHS calculates the poverty line based on location, household size, and household income.

Perceived preparedness for a disaster using the stages of change for those who are and aren’t socioeconomically disadvantaged
Stage of Change Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Not Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Stage 1: Precontemplation – I have NOT prepared, and I DO NOT intend to prepare in the next year 18% 12%
Stage 2: Contemplation – I have NOT prepared, but I intend to prepare in the next year. 24% 19%
Stage 3: Preparation – I have NOT prepared, but I intend to prepare in the next six months. 24% 23%
Stage 4: Action – I have been prepared for the last year. 19% 19%
Stage 5: Maintenance – I have been preparing for MORE than a year. 15% 21%

Figure 6. Stages of Change for Those in the Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Category


Those who are in the socioeconomically disadvantaged category are more likely to not have prepared and to not intend to prepare in the next year, and less likely to have been prepared for a year or more. This is the strongest trend across all of the historically underserved communities FEMA surveyed in the National Household Survey.


Comparison of preparedness action between socioeconomically and non-socioeconomically disadvantaged groups
Preparedness Action Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Not Socioeconomically Disadvantaged
Assemble or Update Supplies 39% 47%
Document and Insure Property 20% 29%
Get Involved in Your Community 14% 16%
Know Evacuation Routes 29% 29%
Make a Plan 44% 44%
Make Your Home Safer 45% 47%
Plan with Neighbors 14% 15%
Practice Emergency Drills or Habits 24% 22%
Safeguard Documents 29% 35%
Save for a Rainy Day 38% 46%
Sign up for Alerts and Warnings 37% 42%
Test Family Communication Plan 28% 25%

Figure 7. Comparison of Preparedness Actions Taken by Those In the Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Category and Those Who Are Not

The NHS suggests cost may be a factor for the biggest differences in preparedness actions for those in the socioeconomically disadvantaged category.

  • Cost-driven preparedness actions, like saving for a rainy day and documenting and insuring property, are taken least frequently by respondents in the socioeconomically disadvantaged category.
  • For low- or no-cost preparedness actions, such as knowing evacuation routes, getting involved with the community, respondents in the socioeconomically disadvantaged category reported comparable rates of taking preparedness actions.

This tells us that people in this group seem to want to prepare but need options and methods that are not cost prohibitive. Consider low- or no-cost ways that folks in your community could prepare.

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