Disaster Preparedness: Could the U.S. Hold Water?

Many wonder whether U.S. families are ready for disasters like those in Japan.

ByABC News
March 14, 2011, 6:12 PM

March 14, 2011— -- Unlike desperate countries like Haiti, many experts agree that so far Japan, a developed country, has fared well overall in disaster preparedness, which is measured by the country's immediate response following an earthquake and tsunami.

But many may wonder whether Americans are as prepared to handle such natural disasters.

The United States has experienced an average of 50 natural disasters each year in the last decade, more than 560 total, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agency documented eight natural disasters this year already, mostly severe winter storms and flooding.

Click HERE to see a list of the items that should be in a basic emergency kit.

While there are national and local emergency plans in place, making the big picture response look satisfactory, experts say it's likely that most Americans themselves are not prepared to handle emergencies.

Indeed, many state and federal government organizations have their own set of challenges. A survey released Monday by the American Medical Association suggested many state health departments have no plan in place to assess human radiation exposure should a radiation emergency similar Japan's nuclear plant explosion should take place.

But experts say what could be as concerning is that family preparedness fares far worse than any governmental infrastructure.

"It's really in the personal preparedness phase rather than the response phase that we need to be paying more attention," said Jonathon Links, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness in Baltimore.

In fact, according to Links, most cities and towns across the United States have experienced some type of natural disaster. Yet, it is estimated that only about 10 percent of households are prepared to handle emergencies.