Disaster preparedness of households with special needs in southeastern Pennsylvania.

BACKGROUND: Individuals with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable in evacuation emergencies, and they face numerous challenges accessing resources for response and recovery.

PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to compare the preparedness behaviors of households with and without special-needs members.

METHODS: A random-digit-dial telephone survey was conducted of 501 adults in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2008. The survey instrument gathered data on sociodemographic characteristics, disability status/functional limitations, and preparedness behaviors related to an evacuation emergency. Analyses were conducted in 2009 and included multiple logistic regressions. Data were weighted to correct for unequal probabilities of selection and response.

RESULTS: Nineteen percent (n=95) of respondents reported living in a household in which someone had a transportation-related special need requiring assistance in case of an emergency. Households with a special-needs member had greater odds of having arranged a place to meet (OR=2.2; 95% CI=1.26, 3.88); located a shelter (OR=1.8; 95% CI=1.05, 3.24); or packed a bag (OR=1.8; 95% CI=1.02, 3.21). No significant differences were identified with respect to awareness of evacuation routes, purchasing of food and water, or creation of an emergency plan to guide evacuation decision-making.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite both greater vulnerability to disaster and numerous messages by governmental and nongovernmental organizations, households with special-needs members are not more likely to engage in time-consuming preparedness behaviors such as planning and buying. Understanding the motivations and behaviors of special-needs groups is critical to designing informed risk-ommunication messages and interventions to bolster the preparedness of the most vulnerable populations.