Abstract: America Unprepared: The Disconnect between Climate Disaster Readiness Guidelines & Reality (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

America Unprepared: The Disconnect between Climate Disaster Readiness Guidelines & Reality

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
David McCarty-Caplan, PhD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge, Northridge, CA
Lillian Beaudoin, MSW, MSW Student, California State University, Northridge, Northridge, CA
Background: A growing body of research suggests climate change is an indisputable phenomenon, and the timeline for an effective response is increasingly abridged. There is no place on our planet that will remain unaffected by climate change, and the United States is no exception. The type of climate-related disasters likely to occur will vary widely and depend on the climatological and geographic variables, as well as the built environment of a given location. Furthermore, it is important to understand how individual perceptions related to climate change relate to preparation activities and policy change. The US Government (CDC/FEMA) has provided guidelines for individuals to communicate recommendations for personal preparation in the event of a climate-related disaster event. However, individual ability to follow these guidelines likely depends on social factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and perceived risk. And yet no research has empirically examined the relationship between the expectations of climate disaster preparation policy guidelines and the reality of an individual’s capacity to prepare for severe weather events.

Method: This exploratory quantitative study intended to address this gap in our understanding. Using electronic survey methodology, a sample of adults living within the United States (N=435) was asked to identify the most-likely severe climate disasters in their location. Based on these selections, they were then presented with CDC/FEMA preparation checklists, and asked about their preparation activities/resources. Participants were also asked about their concern regarding climate change, and a variety of demographic questions. Using these data a series of linear and logistic regressions were conducted to examine predictors of climate disaster preparation activities, availability of resources, and concern about climate change. Supplemental descriptive analyses were utilized to examine the degree to which participant’s preparatory activities met the expectations of CDC/FEMA policy recommendations.

Results: Results from this study demonstrate that, in general, individual preparation for severe climate disasters is extremely low in comparison to CDC/FEMA recommendations, regardless of demographic factors, location or specific type of weather event. Furthermore, this study suggests there are significant differences in climate concern, preparation activities, and availability of resources by racial identity, socioeconomic status, education, and political affiliation.

Conclusions: There is a troubling disconnect between policy-based expectations of climate preparedness and the reality of individual preparation capacity. Additionally, these findings provide preliminary empirical evidence of how stark social and racial inequities of the United States are related to increasingly problematic climate changes. Within the context of the concept of ‘climate justice,’ this study highlights an area of heightened risk for already-vulnerable individuals as climate-related disaster events increase in frequency and extremity. Thus, it is imperative data such as these be examined, applied, and built-upon to improve the U.S. Government's approach to climate disaster preparedness guidelines, and increase awareness of the urgent need to proactively prepare for future environmental challenges. It is recommended such efforts be grounded in concepts of social equity, climate justice, collectivism and community resilience.