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December 25, 2014

UAB study: Residents more tornado-ready than in 2011

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Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014 12:45 am | Updated: 1:23 am, Sun Jul 20, 2014.

Alabamians are more prepared for a tornado now than they were prior to the 2011 storm outbreak, a University of Alabama at Birmingham study has found.

Still, it’s not clear how much of that readiness is due to the state’s awareness campaigns, and how much is due to still-fresh memories of a disaster that killed 244 people.

In 2010, the state’s Department of Public Health asked a randomly-selected group of Jefferson County residents if they had on hand specific items needed for a storm readiness kit, such as non-perishable food, can openers and battery-powered radios.

Those items were on a 10-item list state officials were urging Alabamians to get as part of its “Get 10” storm-preparedness campaign.

In early 2012, nearly a year after the  2011 tornado outbreak, state officials again polled randomly selected Jefferson County residents and found that 61 percent reported having a complete disaster kit. Before the storms, only 37 percent did.

“People are more willing to take action to become prepared after they see neighbors that have experienced a disaster or when they’ve experienced it themselves,” said Lisa McCormick, author of the study and an assistant professor in the UAB’s School of Public Health.

McCormick said the study found that preparedness campaigns are most effective immediately after a disaster.

In the wake of the 2011 storms, Gov. Robert Bentley formed the Tornado Recovery Action Council, which proposed 20 recommendations for severe weather preparedness in the state. Two of the recommendations implemented so far deal with home readiness kits, including a sales tax holiday for the purchase of storm supplies and a severe weather awareness campaign.

Disaster experiences prompt communities to pay more attention to preparedness campaigns, McCormick said, and make them more willing to receive tips about severe weather readiness.

As memories of the storm fade, though, readiness for the next storm seems to wane.

“Communities will rush to become better prepared, but then over time become complacent,” McCormick said.

The researcher hopes to measure preparedness levels over time by conducting future studies.

“I wish I knew more about the governor’s council and what they are doing,” McCormick said. “I think I’m just like every other citizen. I don’t know much about it anymore, because it hasn’t been talked about.”

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