Most Americans Fail to Prepare for Emergencies

Sep 14, 2018

Hurricane season comes as no surprise to Virginians.  We know when it’s coming, and we know what the consequences might be.  So how good are we at preparing?  A professor at the University of Virginia analyzed records from thousands of grocery stores and reached some surprising conclusions.

A UVA study shows many consumers delay purchase of emergency kit essentials -- batteries, flashlights and bottled water.
Credit CDC

The warnings begin in June – hurricanes are coming, but at UVA’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy Professor Jay Shimshack says most people ignore advice to prepare.  He studied data from more than 3,000 grocery stores in nine states over a ten-year period -- before and after hurricanes. It’s information compiled by the Nielsen Company, best known for television ratings.

“They also collect information every time you go to the store and they scan it – beep, beep, beep," Shimshack explains.  "All that information is collected disseminated, and  we were able to get that data to analyze.”

He and colleagues at the University of California at Davis said some people stock up, but most – especially those  in low-income areas who are most likely to need help after a storm – do not.

“The truth is if that stuff is going to be available and I’m going to be able to get to it, maybe it is reasonable for me to not prepare and wait until I absolutely need these things.”

Others, he says, may just be in denial.

“There’s an ostrich effect.  Often people when faced with really unpleasant things will bury their heads in the sand and just sort of ignore it in hopes that it goes away.”

Now he and his colleagues will move on to another analysis – to find out how much price gouging goes on and how much alcohol is sold before hurricanes.