Disaster Preparedness Information Needs of Individuals Attending an Adult Literacy Center: An Exploratory Study

Daniela Friedman, Manju Tanwar, Deborah W. Yoho, Jane V.E. Richter


Being prepared with accurate, credible, and timely information during a disaster can help individuals make informed decisions about taking appropriate actions. Unfortunately, many people have difficulty understanding health and risk-related resources. This exploratory, mixed methods study assessed disaster information seeking behaviors and comprehension of public health disaster preparedness resources by individuals with low literacy. A convenience pilot sample of 20 adult learners (mean age: 53.1) attending a local literacy center were recruited. Health literacy was assessed using Newest Vital Sign (NVS) and modified Cloze (multiple choice) tests on biological terrorism and Avian influenza. In-person interviews were conducted to determine participants’ knowledge, perceptions, and information needs about disasters. Thematic analysis of interviews was conducted using NVivo7. Mean NVS was 3.11/6.00 implying poor health literacy. Mean Cloze scores revealed marginal disaster comprehension (Avian flu: .46/1.00; Biological terrorism: .48/1.00). Over half of participants with inadequate Cloze comprehension self-rated their understanding as “good.” Key themes emerging from interviews were: misperceptions about disasters, limited access to preparedness resources, need for visuals and plain language information, and importance of knowing where to go during a disaster. Study findings advocate for multimedia, plain language, and visual communication to improve adult learners’ self-efficacy in interpreting instructions and acting appropriately in preparing for and responding to disasters.

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Publication of the Community Literacy Journal is made possible through the generous support of the English Department and the Writing and Rhetoric Program at Florida International University. The CLJ is a journal of the Conference on Community Writing.