Since 2013, FEMA has used the NHS to track progress in personal disaster preparedness by studying the American public's preparedness actions, attitudes, and motivations. FEMA conducts the survey in English and Spanish via landline and cellphone to a random sample of about 5,000 adults. The survey includes a national sample as well as hazard-specific oversamples. These include earthquakes, extreme heat, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, winter storms, or urban events (such as a nuclear explosion or terrorist attack).
Each year, FEMA releases a summary of findings for the NHS. However, with the release of the raw data, our partners, from academics and researchers to local emergency managers, can dig deeper into these findings. With the data on OpenFEMA, you can ask your own questions and analyze the data that is most important to your work and the communities you serve. For example:
- If you are local emergency manager or do disaster preparedness outreach, you can use the demographic information to better understand the needs of your community—who is likely to have seen information about how to prepare? Who is most likely to take action? Least likely?
- If you are a professor or researcher, you can use the raw data to support your own research. You can even share it with your students to draw their own conclusions while practicing data clean-up and analysis.
- Go beyond the summary to learn more about the questions asked in the hazard oversamples. Only about 1 in 5 people in the earthquake oversample knew that the best action to take during an earthquake is to Drop, Cover, and Hold On. If earthquakes are a concern for your community, you could use the 2018 NHS data on OpenFEMA to learn more about who knows (and doesn’t know) what to do in an earthquake. Then, use this information to target your outreach more effectively.
- You can also gain insight into people’s emergency planning habits. For example, how many people plan to check on their neighbors if there is a tornado? How many plan to use public transportation to evacuate if a hurricane is coming? And which groups of people are most financially prepared for an emergency with savings and adequate insurance?
- If you’re designing new programs or want to improve current outreach, you can use the data to choose the most effective methods for your community based on hazard risk and demographics. Then, use the data to create visualizations for grant applications and reports.
The NHS datasets on OpenFEMA are meant to be used by our community stakeholders for analysis and creation of metrics and other materials to better assist them in preparing individuals and communities for disasters. Datasets include the raw, unedited data. As such, users should plan to clean the data as needed prior to analysis. The datasets also include an executive summary, the survey instrument, raw weighted and unweighted data, aggregated data analysis, and a codebook with weighting overviews. In addition to the 2018 data, 2017 data is also available on OpenFEMA.
Users of the NHS datasets should also cite the date the data was accessed or retrieved from fema.gov. In addition, users must clearly state that "FEMA and the Federal Government cannot vouch for the data or analyses derived from these data after the data have been retrieved from the Agency's website.”
This is just the start—try one of these ideas or your own while exploring the full dataset so we can all learn to build a culture of preparedness together. Then, share your findings and stories with us at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov.
This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.