OBJECTIVES: Chronic medical and mental illness and disability increase vulnerability to disasters. National efforts have focused on preparing people with disabilities, and studies find them to be increasingly prepared, but less is known about people with chronic mental and medical illnesses. We examined the relation between health status (mental health, perceived general health, and disability) and disaster preparedness (home disaster supplies and family communication plan).
METHODS: A random-digit-dial telephone survey of the Los Angeles County population was conducted October 2004 to January 2005 in 6 languages. Separate multivariate regressions modeled determinants of disaster preparedness, adjusting for sociodemographic covariates then sociodemographic variables and health status variables.
RESULTS: Only 40.7% of people who rated their health as fair/poor have disaster supplies compared with 53.1% of those who rate their health as excellent (P < 0.001). Only 34.8% of people who rated their health as fair/poor have an emergency plan compared with 44.8% of those who rate their health as excellent (P < 0.01). Only 29.5% of people who have a serious mental illness have disaster supplies compared with 49.2% of those who do not have a serious mental illness (P < 0.001). People with fair/poor health remained less likely to have disaster supplies (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 0.69, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.50-0.96) and less likely to have an emergency plan (AOR 0.68, 95% CI 0.51-0.92) compared with those who rate their health as excellent, after adjusting for the sociodemographic covariates. People with serious mental illness remained less likely to have disaster supplies after adjusting for the sociodemographic covariates (AOR 0.67, 95% CI 0.48-0.93). Disability status was not associated with lower rates of disaster supplies or emergency communication plans in bivariate or multivariate analyses. Finally, adjusting for the sociodemographic and other health variables, people with fair/poor health remained less likely to have an emergency plan (AOR 0.66, 95% CI 0.48-0.92) and people with serious mental illness remained less likely to have disaster supplies (AOR 0.67, 95% CI 0.47-0.95).
CONCLUSIONS: People who report fair/poor general health and probable serious mental illness are less likely to report household disaster preparedness and an emergency communication plan. Our results could add to our understanding of why people with preexisting health problems suffer disproportionately from disasters. Public health may consider collaborating with community partners and health services providers to improve preparedness among people with chronic illness and people who are mentally ill.