An estimated 5 million American households in the West are unprepared for a wildfire, according to new survey data.
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Los Angeles — Non-profit population health leader Heluna Health has released results from a new survey on wildfire preparedness showing that nearly half of all Western U.S. adult residents report being impacted by wildfire smoke in the past three years. At the same time, nearly half of Western adult residents also report not having high levels of knowledge on what can be done to prepare themselves adequately for addressing the effects of wildfire smoke. One-fifth of adults in the West—or an estimated 5 million households—would be unprepared if a wildfire were to occur today.
Data was gathered in early 2023 in a representative panel survey of 1,780 adults living in Western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming).
Among the major findings: nearly half of adults living in Western states reported experiencing wildfire smoke during the past three years, including more than one in four (25%) who reported being highly impacted by smoke from wildfires, particularly with respect to physical exercise and mental well-being.
Researchers saw significant differences by age, race, and household income with respect to respondents’ knowledge and capabilities related to wildfire smoke preparedness. Younger adults (<29 years old), for example, and those with annual household incomes less than $35,000 reported experiencing more barriers to taking actions, such as installing air filters or air conditioning—home modifications that can help mitigate the impacts of wildfire smoke. Only slightly more than half of adults reported high capability in checking air quality or knowing when to stay indoors during wildfire smoke.
With climate change increasing the size and severity of wildfires throughout the Western U.S. and with the new finding of significant gaps in awareness regarding where to access preparedness information, Heluna Health’s Director of Research and Evaluation, Dr. Jo Kay Ghosh, stated that “opportunities clearly exist for local organizations and government agencies to improve messaging and outreach about wildfire smoke preparedness. Our research highlights specific preparedness gaps in ensuring that the most vulnerable communities have access to information and resources needed to protect their health during wildfire smoke events.”
ABOUT HELUNA HEALTH:
For more than 50 years, Heluna Health has been providing direct service programs and support to hundreds of partner initiatives that use evidence-based strategies that improve population health outcomes. Our team works to create equitable access to maternal and infant care, expand disease prevention and treatment, enhance nutrition, support housing for persons experiencing homelessness, provide early literacy resources for low-income children and more. Go to www.helunahealth.org.