Poll: U.S. Unready for Hurricanes

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In the soggy aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, during a year where there were more storms than official names, one might expect that coastal residents in the U.S. have fortified their homes; renegotiated their flood, wind and storm insurance; and squirreled away supplies for the six-month 2007 Atlanta hurricane season, which begins June 1.

Quite the contrary. According to a new Mason-Dixon poll released on May 31, more than half of the population who live within 50 miles of the coast do not believe they are vulnerable to hurricanes, tornados or flooding. Of the 1,100 adults polled, 52% said they have no family disaster plan, nearly a third have no hurricane survival kit and nearly 90% said they have done nothing to make their homes stronger. Nearly half of those with insurance polices have not reviewed them within the last year; 47% of policy owners said that they are not covered for flooding.

"Despite the devastation of the 2004-2005 season, one mild season in 2006 has plunged Americans in hurricane-vulnerable states into a dangerous amnesia," said Ron Sachs, executive director of the National Hurricane Survival Initiative, a public education and safety outreach partnership between government organizations, relief agencies and corporations. The initiative works with the National Hurricane Center, FEMA, The National Emergency Management Association, the Salvation Army and the State of North Carolina, as well as corporate partners including Travelers, Plylox and AT&T.

The initiative is doing everything it can to urge people to prepare themselves for a busy storm season. In addition to the poll, it has launched an interactive website, a series of public service announcements and a 30-minute television program, The National Hurricane Survival Test, which air throughout hurricane season on more than 50 television and cable network affiliates.

The initiative's message is simple: plan ahead. Secure your home, have a plan for your family, for the elderly, the disabled, pets. Prepare your insurance claim. Have a three-day supply of food and water for each individual, flashlights and first-aid kit. Secure extra medicine.

But every year people wait until the last minute to leave, causing massive logjams on roads and highways. Frantic shoppers fight for supplies and hoard gasoline. One in three Florida residents does not even have a survival kit, and 10% do not know if they live in a mandatory evacuation zone. Nearly 15% of those polled in the Atlantic and Gulf coastal states said they would refuse to leave their home even if they were ordered to evacuate.

Officials recommend traveling the shortest distance possible to get to safety and wait for the okay to return home. But 43% said they would return home before government authorization. While residents might be anxious to return to their homes and belongings, more deaths typically occur after a hurricane because of downed power lines, unstable trees and flooding.

"You can either get ready now," said Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, "or wait until disaster strikes and not have any options. Failure to do that can cost you your home, your livelihood, and unfortunately your family."

While last year was an exceptionally light season — which National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza admitted was incorrectly forecast — the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicts an above normal season for 2007, which ends on Nov. 30: 13 to 17 named storms. Seven to 10 will become hurricanes (three to five may be category three or higher.) There's a 75% chance one of these will make landfall in the U.S.