Study Finds Most Los Angeles Residents Unprepared for Terrorist Attack; African Americans and Latinos Best Prepared

For Release

January 23, 2006

Just one-third of Los Angeles County residents have prepared for the aftermath of a terrorist attack, with the highest levels of preparation among African Americans and Latinos, according to a report issued today by researchers from the RAND Corporation, UCLA and Los Angeles County.

Few people have either stockpiled emergency supplies or developed a family response plan, even though nearly 60 percent of those surveyed expected the region to be struck by a terrorist attack in the year ahead, according to researchers from RAND Health, UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The study will be published in the January edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The findings are based on an analysis of data from the Los Angeles Health Survey directed by Los Angeles County.

Researchers analyzed responses from a survey of 1,038 county residents and found that 37 percent had either gathered emergency supplies or developed a family plan in anticipation of a terrorist attack. More people had gathered supplies (28 percent) than had prepared plans (17 percent).

Although other studies have suggested ethnic minority groups may be less likely to prepare for disasters, researchers found that about 37 percent of Latinos and 31 percent of African Americans reported they had gathered emergency supplies, compared with only 21 percent of whites and 19 percent of Asian Americans.

About 28 percent of African Americans said they had prepared an emergency plan — compared with 17 percent of Asian Americans, 16 percent of Latinos and 14 percent of whites.

Other groups that were more likely to have taken some precautions for a terrorist attack included immigrants, households that include children, and people who have physical disabilities.

Researchers say African Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles may be motivated to be prepared for terrorist attacks by beliefs that their communities will receive fewer services when disaster strikes.

In addition, many immigrants — a category including many Latinos from Central America — have experienced natural disasters and political strife in their homelands, which may instill an interest in being personally prepared for disasters.

“There needs to be more investment in getting specific communities and groups of people to prepare for disasters in this post-9/11, post-Katrina world,” said Dr. David Eisenman, a researcher at RAND and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA who is the lead author of the study.

“Despite a consensus that Los Angeles is a likely target for terrorists, few of us have taken steps to prepare for the consequences of an attack,” Eisenman added. “We need to better understand what motivates people to plan ahead, and use that knowledge to encourage all groups to be better prepared for terrorist attacks or other disasters.”

“This type of analysis is essential to our tracking attitudes toward possible public health threats and the responses of the many communities within our large county,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County director of public health and Los Angeles County health officer.

“Communicating the need for preparedness to our diverse communities is one of our top priorities,” Fielding added. “The county recently completed an educational campaign in 12 languages to assist families in creating an emergency communication plan.”

RAND researchers analyzed results from a series of questions about preparing for a terrorist attack that were asked as part of the Los Angeles County Health Survey, a periodic study that asks a group of county residents about a wide range of health issues. The data used in the RAND study was collected from October 2002 to February 2003.

The original survey, conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study analysis was conducted in the public interest and supported by RAND using discretionary funds made possible by the generosity of its donors and the fees earned on client-funded research.

Increasing individual preparedness for disasters, including large-scale terrorist attacks, is a significant concern for public officials. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued guidelines for actions that individuals should take to prepare for the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

In addition, efforts have been made in California to urge residents to stockpile food and other supplies that might be necessary in the event of a large earthquake that cuts off power and water supplies.

“After the next big earthquake, we will all need food and water for at least three days until FEMA or other assistance arrives,” Eisenman said. “The threat of a terrorist attack should be another matter that motivates people in Los Angeles to improve their planning for a disaster.”

Other authors of the study are Cheryl Wold and Anna Long of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Claude Setodji and Scot Hickey of RAND, and Dr. Lillian Gelberg of UCLA.

RAND Health is the nation's largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on health care quality, costs and delivery, among other topics.

About RAND

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