Fewer Americans Preparing for Terrorist Attack

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

The terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York City over two years ago caught Americans by surprise -- are they any more prepared today for a possible terrorist attack? A recent Gallup Poll* finds that many American households are less prepared for possible terrorist attacks than they were just a year ago. Fewer Americans are stockpiling food and water, designating a family contact person, and designating a room in their house as a "safe room."

Forget the Duct Tape. Do You Have Any Food?

Last year's "terrorism readiness" questions were asked in late February, during an "orange" (or elevated) terror alert in which the government advised citizens to create preparedness kits with items such as duct tape for sealing off rooms in the event of chemical attacks. Much was made of public demand for duct tape, but Gallup polling from that time shows that while 59% of Americans had duct tape in their homes, only 2% purchased it after the government's terrorism warning.

Probably more critical to surviving a terrorist attack is a generous supply of food and water. Last year, 60% of Americans said they had a stockpile of food and water in their homes in preparation for a terrorist attack. This year, with last year's government announcement a distant memory, and no elevated terror alert, only about 4 in 10 Americans (41%) report having a stockpile of food and water.

Can You Communicate?

As anyone who attempted to contact friends or family in New York or Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, can attest, communication during such catastrophic events can be difficult or impossible. Gallup polling also shows that Americans are less likely than they were a year ago to have designated a contact person outside of their area for communicating with family in the event of an attack.

Last year, responses were fairly split, with 46% saying they had designated a person outside of their area for contacting family, and 53% saying they had not. Now, just 38% say they have a designated person and 61% do not.

Fewer "Safe Rooms"

Another terrorism preparedness tactic is the designation of an interior room in the house as a "safe room" where everyone will go during an attack. As with the other items tested, this measure also declined in 2004. In 2003, 38% of Americans had designated such a room in their house. This year, just about a quarter (24%) say they have done so.

Bottom Line

In three important ways, Americans are apparently less prepared to survive a terrorist attack than they were a year ago, at least given government recommendations. With the 2003 polling conducted during an elevated terror threat level, shortly after the government directed the public on how to be prepared for an attack, it is not surprising that Americans reacted accordingly. Now, with seemingly lower threat levels, public vigilance seems to have decreased.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 26-28, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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