Prepared for what? Addressing the disaster readiness gap beyond preparedness for survival

Monica E. Gowan, Jeff A. Sloan, Ray C. Kirk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Conventional disaster preparedness messaging focuses largely on promoting survival actions and communications planning for the immediate post-disaster period. While such preparedness is vital, we have long-observed a gap in preventive medicine and disaster planning for building personal resilience - preventatively - to persevere through prolonged recovery timeframes. There are many helpful attitudes and behaviors that people can develop to increase their readiness and capacity for drastic life changes, encompassing not only health-protective preparedness actions but health-promoting attitudes for "minding the risk" and "practicing resilience" as well. For instance, quality of life assessments and well-being interventions are widely-known for the clinically significant improvements they can produce in patient-reported outcomes. Similarly, health promotion interventions are implemented preventatively when a risk is identified yet a disease is not present, and can provide health benefits throughout people's lives, regardless of the type of adversities they eventually encounter (medical, environmental, or other). Discussion: We argue there is an overlooked opportunity to leverage well-being theories and methods from clinical settings and public health practice for the purpose of preventatively boosting disaster readiness and bolstering capacity for long-term resilience. We also highlight our previously-published research indicating a role for integrating personal meaning into preparedness messages. This is an opportune time for applying well-being concepts and practices as tools for developing disaster readiness, as risk awareness grows through real-time tracking of hazardous events via social media. For example, two sudden-onset disasters occurred within ten days of each other in 2014 and caught worldwide attention for their extreme hazards, despite dramatic differences in scale. The 22 March 2014 landslide tragedy in Washington State, USA, and the 1 April 2014 Chilean earthquake and Pacific-wide tsunami alerts brought home how persistently vulnerable we all are, and how developing intrinsic personal readiness for scientifically-known risks before disaster unfolds is essential policy. Summary: Gap programming that addresses personal readiness challenges in prevention timeframes could save lives and costs. We contend that bridging this readiness gap will prevent situations where people, communities, and systems survive the initial impact, but their resilience trajectories are vulnerable to the challenges of long-haul recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1139
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 17 2015


  • Disaster resilience
  • Evacuation
  • Hazards
  • Health outcomes
  • Health promotion
  • Natural disasters
  • Preparedness
  • Prevention
  • Risk perception
  • Self-management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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