So Much More Than Having a Kit & Making a Plan

by Catherine L. Feinman

For years, emergency preparedness professionals have been preaching the message, “Have a Kit, Make a Plan.” As a result, everyone is now ready for the next disaster … of course not. In its latest survey, DomPrep explored levels of preparedness, reasons why people do not plan, as well as possible solutions to reach those who have not yet bought in to the traditional messaging efforts.

Cathy Feinman headshotKeep in mind that the “Personal & Family Preparedness” survey conducted in August 2017 was taken by DomPrep’s readers, who are primarily comprised of middle and upper management professionals in fields related to emergency preparedness and response: public health, law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, emergency management, military, private sector, academia, all levels of government, and so on. Although these professionals prepare for emergencies on a regular basis, they are not always personally prepared. However, they should be for two key reasons:

  • By being personally prepared, emergency personnel are more likely to rapidly respond when needed.
  • By ensuring that others are personally prepared, emergency personnel can focus their knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources where they are most needed during a crisis.

Key Survey Findings

Comparing DomPrep readers’ responses to the August 2017 with responses to the same questions in a 2011 survey, the survey revealed two key findings:

  1. The concern among respondents has decreased significantly in every disaster event category (see Figure 1).
  2. The number of respondents taking steps to be more prepared has increased only marginally in all categories (see Figure 2).
Which of the following disaster events are of greatest concern to you?
Figure 1.


What steps have you personally taken to be more resilient?

Figure 2. 


Despite years of campaigns promoting personal and family preparedness and the need for a “go kit,” 25% of survey respondent still do not heed that advice. As for the sharp decline in percentages of disaster events that raise great concern, it is worth asking the following questions: Have these threats actually decreased? Are communities simply more prepared for these threats? Have the perceptions about threats and risks changed? Or have emergency preparedness professionals become more complacent? Although this survey cannot answer these questions, it does provide a wealth of information on why some people still do not take steps to prepare for emergencies and informed recommendations for how to build personal preparedness.

Of the 755 people who responded to the August 2017 survey, 67 (almost 9%) reported that they have not yet begun to take steps to be personally more resilient. One respondent from an academic institution stated, “These are good reminders that I need to get my butt to work on this list!” Others reported being very prepared. “I have an extensive background in emergency management and have used this knowledge to help prepare family and friends for emergency situations and will continue to do so,” said one retired respondent. And others are somewhere in the middle. “My preparations ebb and flow. Just last week, my wife and I promised to freshen our emergency kit. We still haven’t done it. There are some very stale granola bars in there,” said a respondent from a privately owned company.

Reasons for Not Preparing & Suggested Recommendations

Survey respondents provided various reasons that people still do not engage in personal and family preparedness efforts: apathy, conflicting priorities, financial burdens, mobility concerns, educational gaps, locational knowledge, and communication gaps. For each of these preparedness hurdles, survey respondents shared ideas for how emergency preparedness professionals can help community members overcome the challenges preventing them from developing personal and family preparedness plans and kits.


  • Emphasize the fact that the government and first responders may not be available immediately following a disaster.
  • Explain that emergency preparedness includes a broad range of scenarios, including but not limited to: earthquakes, riots, hurricanes, wildfires, severe storms, hail, tornadoes, virtual threats, critical infrastructure threats, public health threats, bioterror attacks, chemical spills, pandemics, power outages, electromagnetic pulses.
  • Share personal testimonies of people who were not prepared for previous disasters (particularly disasters that were not expected or unprecedented).
  • Inform communities about changes in government funding that may increase the need for them to be self-sufficient for longer amounts of time post-disaster.
  • Bring preparedness to the community by creating door-to-door teams for outreach operations.
  • Partner with social, cognitive, and organizational psychology professionals to increase individual and organizational willingness to develop robust emergency plans.
  • Teach the kids and the parents may follow. This may also reduce fear in children during emergencies.

Conflicting priorities

  • Provide a preparedness calendar with recommendations for specific items that can be done weekly or monthly to avoid overwhelming individuals and their families.
  • Emphasize the need to continually update plans as circumstances change (e.g., addition of new family members, changes in medical conditions, seasonal changes).
  • Offer preparedness classes to address planning strategies.
  • Conduct personal and family preparedness training sessions at workplaces to increase the chance of them responding to work when needed.
  • Share preparedness guidelines with suggested packing lists (e.g., food, water, radio, batteries, first aid kit).
  • Remind families that there is no set preparedness plan or packing lists. Each plan must be tailored to fit the needs of each family.
  • Link organizational training and awareness activities with employee emergency preparedness.

Financial burdens

  • Start with small preparedness tips (e.g., adding “ICE” [In Case of Emergency] on cellphones).
  • Provide a free template to develop a personal/family emergency plan.
  • Discover low-cost, no-cost alternatives to enhance preparedness (e.g., optimize common household items for emergency use).
  • Assess insurance needs (e.g., earthquake, flood) and compare to calculated cost of disaster when insurance is not purchased.
  • Encourage setting realistic goals that can be integrated into daily routines.
  • Offer free or low-cost benefits (e.g., planning seminars, storage facilities) to employees to enhance personal preparedness.
  • Encourage social community events during which neighbors can meet, thus being more likely to help each other during a disaster.

Mobility concerns

  • Locate and map locations where people may require additional resources during a disaster (e.g., functional needs, limited access to transportation).
  • Encourage home drills to find and close preparedness gaps (e.g., gather items, load the vehicle, test and know how to use generators).
  • Provide suggested packing lists beyond basic items (e.g., medical equipment, two-week supply of medications).
  • Discuss plans for evacuation and sheltering in place for all family members (e.g., children, elderly, pets).
  • Team up with animal shelters to promote pet preparedness and reduce pet-related noncompliance when evacuation orders are in place.

Educational gaps

  • Research and promote checklists for items that have helped actual victims during real events.
  • Provide community workshops to help families develop their own disaster plans and back up plans.
  • Suggest where and how to secure valuables, documents, and irreplaceable items.
  • Offer hands-on training programs to community members.
  • Involve children in the emergency planning process.
  • Join and/or support preparedness efforts through local organizations, such as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps, Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), faith-based organizations, and community associations.
  • Develop ways to make emergency preparedness  “fun.”
  • Promote campaigns for citizen action (e.g., Ready.govStop the Bleed, You Are the Help Until Help Arrives, first aid training).
  • Teach methods for maintaining courage and control during critical incidents.
  • Share preparedness information through avenues that reach most households (e.g., utility bills, sporting events).

Locational knowledge

  • Inform communities about local risks and threats (e.g., natural hazards, hazardous substances, critical infrastructure, virtual threats, public health concerns, civil disturbances).
  • Discuss risks to homes and structures as well as how to fortify such buildings to withstand various threats.
  • Provide effective oversight to protect people from known hazardous substances.
  • Develop free mobile applications for location-specific emergency management information (e.g., Tulsa Ready app).
  • Remind people to reassess their plans when they move to other geographical locations.
  • Make local and school emergency operations plans easily accessible to the public.

Communication gaps

  • Create sign-up lists for emergency text and email alerts, for both resident and business locations.
  • Send monthly reminders to check personal emergency preparedness plans and supplies.
  • Post contact lists for community members to reach local emergency preparedness and response agencies with pertinent questions.
  • Host preparedness fairs to share information.
  • Remind families that daily communication methods (e.g., cellphones) may not be accessible during a disaster or power outage, so it is critical to have a family reunification plan in place.
  • Share the benefits of and information related to becoming an amateur radio operator.
  • Do not assume that information shared is information received and implemented. Repetition is key.


Focusing events like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma may provide the opportunity to convey critical messaging about personal and family preparedness. Although there is no single solution for building personal and family preparedness, emergency preparedness professionals can play a critical role in furthering such preparedness efforts. It may still take experiencing the adverse effects of an actual event before some people recognize a threat and the value of having a pre-disaster plan, but emergency preparedness professionals must keep promoting the message. “All my friends think I am crazy for always talking about the what ifs. I just hope they take some of what I say to heart and put a bug out bag together for each person/pets in the house,” said one emergency management respondent. A little “crazy” may be what it takes to implement fundamental change.

Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Team DomPrep in January 2010. She has 30 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor-in-chief of the DomPrep Journal,, and the DPJ Weekly Brief, and works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and resilience communities. She also volunteers as an emergency medical technician, firefighter, and member of the Media Advisory Panel of EMP SIG (InfraGard National Members Alliance’s Electro-Magnetic Pulse Special Interest Group). She received a bachelor’s degree in international business from University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.