Development of Metrics for Personal Preparedness

Many emergency management agencies provide valuable information to assist individuals within their communities to prepare for a variety of disasters. However, a method for measuring the success of such programs is needed to determine their effectiveness and to develop new programs to ensure community resilience.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines preparedness as: “Actions taken to plan, organize, equip, train, and exercise to build and sustain the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from those threats that pose the greatest risk.” A 2001 article by Associate Professor Douglas Paton of Massey University and David Johnston with the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, determined the need to identify values, beliefs, competencies, resources, and procedures that members of a community can utilize to proactively develop capacity to adapt, sustain societal functions, and recover. In order for societies to become resilient, the individuals who make up the society must become resilient.

Evaluating Current Initiatives

The federal government, as well as many states, have implemented various programs with the intention that the messages of preparedness reach the population. Websites such as and campaigns such as America’s PrepareAthon! and Ready 2015: Be Prepared for Every Season have attempted to deliver the emergency preparedness message to individuals. There is a strong understanding across research that individual preparedness is the key to successful community, state, and national preparedness. Without the most basic preparedness at the individual level the larger preparedness initiatives are not likely to be as successful.

Preparedness sites, such as America’s PrepareAthon!, suggest high numbers of prepared individuals. As of August 2015, the number of participants registered in the program reached over 23 million. This data does not actually measure preparedness, but simply measures the number of people that pledged to be prepared.

Professor Naim Kapucu of the University of Central Florida, Orlando, suggested in a 2008 article that, “most people in disaster prone regions know they should prepare, but few actually do” (p. 526). Kapucu further stated that this is true even of households that have experienced regular disasters. Although 23 million prepared individuals seems to represent a large number, there is no identifiable correlation between the number of individuals accessing website information and the number of actually prepared individuals.

Paton and Johnston also suggested in their 2001 research that, “in predicting adoption of household hazard preparations, traditional approaches to public education directed at increasing awareness and/or risk perception have proven ineffective” (p. 270). It is understood that preparedness is less driven by the hazards and more by implications for the individual’s livelihood (Bishop et al., 2000; Millar et al., 1999). In addition, Paton and Johnston determined the necessity to accommodate the needs of the individual and psychosocial factors that will facilitate the relationship between perception of risk and behavior that leads to preparedness.

Currently, it appears that no system of measurement exists that can quantify successful emergency preparedness at the individual level. There does not appear to be consistent messaging across all states, or even within a state. Multiple organizations have preparedness missions and share the preparedness education information to their constituents. However, it is difficult to measure the collective impact on the general public because there is not a universal system of measurement to determine if this education has caused the individual to take preparedness actions. The return on investment for the organizations is calculated in many different ways.

Initiatives have been launched that have direct and objective measurements. According to the American Red Cross President of Humanitarian Services Cliff Holtz during personal communications in 2015, six times a day in the United States, someone dies in a home fire. The Red Cross launched a nationwide public initiative that aims to reduce the number of fire deaths and injuries in the United States by 25 percent within five years. The Red Cross works with many community organizations to identify vulnerable communities to engage in this initiative. Vulnerable communities can include but are not limited to communities with high numbers of: fire-related deaths or injuries; low-income populations; access and functional needs populations; or households lacking smoke detectors. Volunteers canvas the targeted communities and offer to check existing smoke alarms, change batteries, or install new smoke alarms in the home. Volunteers also work with the residents of the home to develop a family emergency plan. This initiative was implemented across the country in October 2014, and the Red Cross can already confirm 15 lives were saved due to smoke alarms the organization installed. 

The Ontario Power Generation (OPG®) provided the residents within 10 miles of their Darlington and Pickering nuclear sites in Ontario, Canada (along the Ontario-New York border) with an emergency evacuation kit in a door-to-door campaign that also provided an explanation of the emergency procedures and testing of the new emergency sirens. After this campaign, tests were conducted that revealed in the 2015 Darlington Event After Action Briefing, an increase in both understanding of individual response requirements and the emergency messages received as compared to the same tests performed in the past two years.

Factors for Evaluating Individual Preparedness

There are several factors that incite individuals to become prepared. In a 2002 article, Professor Dennis Mileti of University of Colorado-Boulder and Associate Professor Lori Peek of Colorado State University suggested that previous experience with similar disasters, higher levels of education, middle age, and location of family members all contribute to levels of preparedness. In addition, their research suggested that individuals who receive accurate and timely information are more likely to be prepared.

A critical approach in developing metrics to identify the value of personal preparedness is the need to assess effectiveness or pre-planning after an emergency occurs and to build on lessons learned from previous events. Without the understanding of the level of preparedness that is adequate for the disasters faced, it is difficult to measure the level of an individual’s personal preparedness. Due to the unpredictability of disasters occurring, this metric is difficult to measure, as it requires contact with individuals prior to an event and again after the event to develop a comparison and evaluation of measurements. There is no real way to know when the best pre-event contact can occur and when the best post-event time is to approach the individual. Research conducted by RAND Corporation in 2010 discussed process mapping to identify the needs of a response and the tasks as a component of the overall system. The report stated that the assumption should not be just to spend until the situation is managed or the money has been exhausted, but to consider, “When do we know when we have invested enough?”

Israel has developed a just-in-time system of providing preparedness that is effective in assisting individuals when preparing for non-conflict events. Within the Emergency Management Institute E0680 course lecture on meta-leadership, Dr. Leonard Marcus (2015) discussed, preparedness activities occur when an event is imminent or in the immediate aftermath of the event; this population is considered somewhat resilient due to the level of ongoing conflict. By providing just-in-time preparedness, individuals have been shown to mitigate the damages caused by the disaster and to remember the preparedness message to improve their resilience prior to the next event.

As emergency management moves toward a more evidence-based and business-case driven practice, it is becoming more important for programs to be able to quantify their activities and show a positive or expected return on investment that ensures the activity is the best use of limited resources. Preparedness is no different and, despite the difficulty with implementation of metrics to ensure success of any preparedness program, there needs to be further work in developing a common system of measurement for the adoption of future programs. Additionally, established in March 2011, Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness (PPD-8) describes the nation’s approach to preparing for the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk to the security of the United States.

National preparedness is the shared responsibility of the whole community. Every member contributes – including individuals, communities, private and nonprofit sectors, faith-based organizations, as well as federal, state, and local governments. The annual National Preparedness Report required by PPD-8 uses the core capabilities as the metric by which preparedness is measured. As no core capability exists for individual preparedness, the four reports to date do not include a status on individual preparedness despite the ongoing priority status of increasing individual and community preparedness as a key shared responsibility among everyone.


Direct Incentives (Tax Refund/Reduction) – Provide direct federal and/or state incentives for completion of a training course, development of a plan/kit, etc. In this case, the individual would receive a direct tax refund or other type of deduction for providing proof that they have taken appropriate training, developed a plan, and/or built a kit that helped them be more prepared for disasters. 

  • Pro-Direct Incentive – In a program that requires completion of online training and printing of a certificate for proof of completion there is a validated metric.
  • Con-Direct Incentive – Research published in a 2001 issue of Review of Educational Research shows that incentives do not always work; tasks that called for “even rudimentary cognitive skill” a larger reward “led to poorer performance.” This approach can be costly with an unknown return on investment. Early adopters/users would be those already considering or willing to develop personal preparedness to meet the program requirements. 

Insurance Incentive. Insurance companies are looking at ways of reducing claims and ensuring rapid de-escalation of the effects of disaster.

  • Pro-Insurance Incentive – Insurance companies are motivated to support a partnership where they are able to provide incentives for their customers when it reduced the overall liability of the insurance carrier or agency. This system would reduce the resources needed by any level of government as the insurance company would set metrics and support the administration of the program.
  • Con-Insurance Incentive – Much like direct incentives, insurance incentives can be a hard sell when the individual does not feel the incentive is worth any extra work needed to meet the program requirements. The most vulnerable populations tend not to have insurance according to the American Insurance Association.

Product Incentives. Product incentives would provide direct access between an individual and the organization administering the program (such as the Red Cross smoke detectors and the OPG® evacuation kits). 

  • Pro-Product Incentive – Individuals are more likely to leave something that has been installed for them or to accept preparedness items that are directly provided. This method also opens dialogue directly with the individual, which may then increase the individual’s motivation for preparedness.
  • Con-Product Incentive – There is no way to know that the mitigation or preparedness put in place will be maintained or left in place prior to an event. This system can be costly and requires strong partnerships with community organizations that can provide direct outreach to individuals within their own communities.

Business Incentives. Local retailers (e.g., Home Depot, Wal-Mart) who traditionally provide for pre- and post-event consumer products for storm preparedness/recovery can be engaged in preparedness activities without an imminent event occurring. In this case, the local, state, or federal government responsible for the program would identify requirements (e.g., completion of a training, attendance at a preparedness session) and would issue a certificate that the individual can use at the big box store to purchase resources and tools for preparedness. 

  • Pro-Business Incentive – This type of program would be cost effective for the government administering the program. Costs that are absorbed by private retailers carry some guarantee for return on investment in either community goodwill and/or when the purchases exceed the value of the certificate. Use of certificates by individuals could be tracked providing two levels of metrics (knowledge gained from the learning session and acquisition of readiness resources) for the program.
  • Con-Business Incentive – This type of program requires ongoing relationships with local business and the regional/national parent organizations. If the strategic priorities of these private organizations change there is risk that certificates issued will not be honored and there may be a need to change documents frequently to reflect changes in partners as the program matures.

Youth Programs. Message campaigns directed at youth in schools have been extremely successful for other emergency messages (e.g., stranger danger, stop-drop-and-roll, seatbelt safety, fire evacuation). Similar strategies can be utilized for emergency preparedness in a more long-term solution for ensuring preparedness. Federal Preparedness Coordinator of DHS-FEMA Region VII Philip Kirk argued in his 2014 master’s thesis that by instilling messages in the nation’s youth, one can conclude the same message may also be taken home to the adults and ultimately led to increased actions by all age groups.

  • Pro-Youth Program – The 2014 FEMA National Household Survey (slide 18) states that 70 percent of households with children that bring home preparedness materials said they have discussed the plan with family members.
  • Con-Youth Program – Messaging delivered to youth will take one or more generation to become natural practice and requires consistency in messaging across a number of school sessions.


This article is adapted from a 2015 study conducted by the following students at the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI), National Emergency Management Executive Academy


Shannan Saunders

Shannan Saunders is the manager of emergency management at Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She is a seasoned emergency management professional with practical experience in the development and delivery of emergency management programs in both the public and private sector. Her research focuses on developing organizational resilience as a method of disaster risk reduction. Professionally, her focus is on the development and delivery of comprehensive emergency management and continuity programs and supporting development of organizational resiliency through building of human capital in establishments around the world. She is a previous paramedic and works diligently with several humanitarian organizations, providing humanitarian assistance globally. She received her Master’s in Disaster and Emergency Management in 2012 and is a disaster science fellow (2011). She received her CEM in 2009, ABCP in 2011, and AMBCI in 2013.  In September 2015, she completed the EMI Executive Academy.

Jeff Hayes

Jeff Hayes is the director of homeland security for the Agricultural Research Service, the in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and one of four agencies in the Research, Education and Economic mission area. He joined Agricultural Research Service in 2003 and is the national program leader responsible for the protection of ARS assets system-wide, to include emergency management and preparedness. As a former military policeman, he has served in security and crisis management roles at the operations and staff levels of several industry companies, including 20 years of service as an operations director, regional director, division director, senior director, and vice president with Marriott International Inc., a multinational company. In September 2015, he completed the EMI Executive Academy.

Daniel Ellis

Daniel Ellis has 37 years in the fire service, with the last 34 years on the Chicago Fire Department. He is currently a district chief assigned as the first deputy director of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communication (OEMC). He started on a volunteer fire department in the southern suburbs until he joined the Chicago Fire Department as a paramedic. He became an instructor in the Training Division and was promoted as the commander at Fire Academy South. He was also assigned as a commander in the Special Operations Divisions and an assistant deputy chief paramedic before being promoted to his current position. He has also held part-time police and fire positions for various south suburban communities and is on the field training staff of the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute. He earned an Associate Degree in Law Enforcement from South Suburban College, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Science Management from South Illinois University, and a Master of Science Degree in Fire and Emergency Management Administration from Oklahoma State University. He is a 2015 graduate of the Emergency Management Executive Program.

Dolph Diemont

Dolph Diemont became a member of the FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) cadre in May 2007 and, in that capacity, he represents the president and coordinates all federal response and recovery activities with state and local emergency management agencies in the aftermath of major disasters. He has led response and recovery efforts in 20 major disasters declarations, including Colorado in 2015, Michigan in 2014, Alaska in 2013, West Virginia in 2012, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska in 2011, North Dakota and Alaska in 2010, Oregon and Illinois in 2009, Wisconsin in 2008, and Ohio, California, and Oregon during 2007. He has also worked on a variety of special assignments, including two months on the Gulf Coast Mass Evacuation Project. In September 2015, he completed the EMI Executive Academy.

Megan Chamberlain

Megan Chamberlain serves as a division disaster director for the American Red Cross. In this role, she supports the local regions to implement disaster services programs throughout the assigned territory of Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, and Wisconsin, and ensures that disaster cycle services (preparedness, response, and recovery) are delivered in a rapid and accessible manner, meeting the urgent needs of clients. She has 15 years of experience in disaster response and has served in leadership roles for numerous American Red Cross response and recovery operations including the 2015 Typhoon Soudelor response in Saipan, Super Storm Sandy responses in New York and West Virginia, Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, along with numerous other disasters. She also served as the American Red Cross liaison at FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) for Hurricane Isaac to assist with coordinating mass care support to the affected Gulf States. She graduated from the University of South Dakota Disaster Mental Health Institute with a degree in psychology with an area of concentration in disaster response. In September 2015, she completed the EMI Executive Academy.

Bruce Lockwood

Bruce Lockwood is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) serving as the acting captain of emergency management for the East Hartford Fire Department, Connecticut. He also serves as the chair of the Capitol Region Emergency Planning Council. He is past president of the International Association of Emergency Managers – U.S. Council, and currently serves as a Global Board member for the International Association of Emergency Managers. From 2011 to 2015 Bruce served on the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) advisory committee. He has been an assessor for the Emergency Management Accreditation Program since 2006, and currently serves on the standards subcommittee. In 2008, he was appointed by the speaker of the house to serve as a commissioner on the congressionally chartered National Commission on Children and Disasters preparing two reports for the president and congress. In 2004, he was a founding member of the Connecticut Emergency Management Association, and served as the inaugural president. He is a graduate of the 2015 National Emergency Management Executive Academy.

Randy Robertson

Randy Robertson is city manager of Cordova, Alaska. He has previously served as city manager for several communities in mid-south. He is a retired United States Army officer and senior Department of the Army civilian with nearly 30 years of military service. In September 2015, he completed the EMI Executive Academy.

Meloyde Batten-Mickens

Dr. Meloyde “Mel” Batten-Mickens, CEM, is the interim chief/director of public safety at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. She has over 20 years of progressively responsible experience in local government and higher education. Within these venues, she has been responsible for information technology, public safety, facilities, transportation, and emergency management. She has collaborated with various campus, local, regional, and federal agencies to promote teaming, enhance communications, and inclusive emergency operations for public safety, the deaf/hard-of-hearing constituency, and infrastructure protection teams. She has served as a special advisor for Gallaudet University’s Graduate Social Work Projects; and has presented leadership, public safety, lessons learned, and best practice topics at a variety of conferences, leadership meetings, and webinars. In April 2014, she was awarded Serve DC’s “Whole Community Award” for her successful collaborations in a campus Community Emergency Response Team training program specifically designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and American Sign Language interpreters. In July 2014, she was appointed to the FEMA National Advisory Council serving on the Preparedness and Protection subcommittee. In September 2015, she completed the EMI Executive Academy.



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