A disaster can occur at any time and without much warning. To gain a better understanding of the emergency preparedness of U.S. households, HUD and the Census Bureau for the first time included a special set of questions on the topic in the 2013 American Housing Survey (AHS). The special set of questions broadly covered topics that explored household readiness to shelter in the aftermath of a disaster and readiness to evacuate.
In the case of sheltering in the aftermath of a disaster, access to food and water are important considerations for households. NAHB tabulations of the survey found that 86.2% of owner-occupied households reported having enough non-perishable food to sustain everyone in the household for three days. Additionally, a majority of owner-occupied households (57.7%) had access to emergency water supply of at least three gallons or 24 bottles of water for each person in the house.
The readiness to evacuate is another important consideration for households. NAHB tabulations of the special set of questions found 39.2% had an emergency meeting location and about one-third (33.7%) had a communication plan. An effective communication plan includes a contingency for the disruption of cell service.
The overwhelming majority of owner-occupied households (95.7%) had access to a vehicle that could take everyone in the household to a safe place at least 50 miles away. Once 50 miles away, 68.2% of owner-occupied households could count on staying with relatives or friends for a 2-week evacuation. Just over one in five households (21%) would stay in a hotel or motel while 2.9% would stay in public shelters.
The special set of questions included in the 2013 AHS provides a snapshot of the emergency preparedness of U.S. households. Although a majority of owner-occupied households indicate a preparedness to shelter or evacuate if required, the unpredictable nature of disasters and emergencies suggest caution is in order when analyzing the survey results.