Americans remain complacent as devastating disasters strike

New study finds many Americans largely unaware of local emergency communications


WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 19, 2012) – Despite a record-breaking year of federally declared disasters in 2011, including floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires, many Americans still lack basic awareness of their local emergency communications systems. At the BE Safe America Congressional Briefing presented by Safe America Foundation at the U.S. Capitol, Federal Signal Corporation today announced the findings of the 2012 Public Safety Survey, which takes a hard look at how knowledgeable and prepared Americans are for emergencies. While the survey found that more than 56 percent of Americans believe they are aware of the steps they need to take should disaster strike, the results uncover a shocking lack of knowledge—and even indifference—surrounding emergency alerts and notifications.

“Not only is it necessary to create a thorough preparedness and response plan for an emergency or disaster, it’s critical that people are as educated as possible about the emergency communications systems in place within their communities—which can prove lifesaving,” said Len Pagano, president and CEO, Safe America Foundation. “We were surprised to see just how many people remain unaware of the alerting systems in their area, and even more disconcerting, how many are apathetic in their response to emergency scenarios and communications.”

Conducted for the third consecutive year by Zogby International, the survey found that 71 percent of Americans are unsure if they have a personal alerting and notification system (ANS) in their area, which includes a combination of options for calls, text and email message notifications. Yet, respondents said they would be more motivated to take action in an emergency by ANS alerts than any other communication, ahead of traditional warning sirens, radio and TV public services announcements and even word-of-mouth communication from friends and family.

The survey also showed that the public is largely unaware of their local warning sirens. More than half (57 percent) of those surveyed do not know when sirens in their area are tested, and 70 percent are unaware of the sounds and sirens associated with various warnings. In fact, more than one in four respondents did not know if their community has a warning siren system at all.

“With all of the options available to keep the public informed of nearby disasters or emergencies, we were alarmed to see how many people aren’t aware of the existing notification systems in their communities,” said Joe Wilson, president of the Industrial Systems Division, Safety and Security Group at Federal Signal. “In times of crisis, people need to act fast—or risk waiting until it’s too late. Now more than ever, it is essential that we educate communities on the emergency communications options available to them, and to drive the sense of urgency surrounding swift response to emergency alerts.”

Even severe weather conditions do not motivate Americans to take action. Less than one half (47 percent) of survey respondents would take action based on a potential severe weather warning and one-third (33 percent) of respondents would require actual property damage or injury in order to care strongly about public safety awareness. Further, one in four respondents (28 percent) would require confirmation of severe weather, such as an actual tornado sighting, flood waters or a visible fire in order to take immediate action. A shocking 1 in 12 people said that nothing would cause them to care.

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