Investigating preparedness level, threat perception and preferred disaster communication strategies of older adults in rural Georgia
Cleveland, Eva Ninette
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Introduction: Older adults are less likely than younger populations to engage in preparedness behaviors (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2012). They are also more likely to be affected by negative health outcomes after a disaster, especially those in rural communities (Ashida, Robinson, Gay, & Ramirez, 2016). This preparedness gap translates into lack of overall preparedness within the vulnerable population communities. With the ever changing priorities in preparedness, ensuring that preparing older adults remains a priority is an important focus. The focus of this research is to investigate preparedness communication strategies, barriers and the relationship between preparedness behavior and risk perception with older adults and emergency management personnel in Georgia. Methods: This research was conducted in two phases using adapted measures for preparedness, susceptibility and severity in face to face and online surveys. Phase I encompassed one qualitative aim, collecting data from local emergency management personnel and older adults on their perceptions of hazards, communication needs/strategies and barriers. Phase II consisted of two quantitative aims investigating the association between preparedness behaviors and risk perception. Aim two of this phase investigated the effects of race, education and income on preparedness and risk perception. Results: Phase I data indicated that emergency management personnel and older adults in Georgia perceive many of the same risks, but older adults perceive risk more in the effects of hazards rather than the hazards themselves. Emergency management personnel need to use communication strategies that reflects the diversity in the older adult population. Aims 2 analysis indicated there was not a significant relationship between preparedness behaviors and threat perception. Aim 3 analysis did not significantly support effects of education, race and income on preparedness and threat perception. Conclusions: Yet, these results indicate ways to address this issue with older adults in Georgia. By tailoring message strategies specifically for their local older adults and using local agencies for dissemination, emergency management personnel can cue this population to action in preparedness behavior. Limitations: Qualitatively, low numbers of interviewees and focus group members may not wholly reflect all Georgia residents. The creation of average scores for indexed preparedness and risk perception measures may have underestimated associations.