Youth voices concern for improving disaster readiness policies

May 21, 2024
Concept photo of a group of young people demanding climate action. Image credit: Nicole Smith, made with Midjourney

Nearly half of the young people surveyed on disaster preparedness indicated they felt unprepared for any type of disaster event during a period when catastrophic climate disasters are becoming increasingly frequent, says a University of Michigan researcher.

The study, recently published in the journal Traumatology, showcases insights from the University of Michigan’s MyVoice project on how teenagers and young adults approach disaster preparedness. Addressing this vital concern, the study reveals engagement levels and perceptions of readiness among youth facing an era of increasing climate-related disasters.

Of those surveyed, 47% disclosed feeling completely unprepared for potential disasters, with finances and lack of resources being cited as primary reasons for their lack of readiness.

Katherine Kruger
Katherine Kruger

“While respondents felt there were actions they could take now to prepare for a future disaster, some were unsure of the most effective readiness approaches they and their communities could take,” said Katherine Kruger, lead author and a Ph.D. student at the U-M School of Nursing.

Sue Anne Bell, U-M assistant professor of nursing, is the senior author on the study.

Surveying a diverse cohort of 1,083 individuals aged 14 to 24, the MyVoice study brought to the forefront the attitudes young people hold regarding disaster preparedness. A significant number of respondents have already faced substantial disruption in their lives due to disasters, pointing to the far-reaching and enduring effects such events can have on young individuals’ mental and emotional health.

MyVoice is a research initiative that focuses on capturing the thoughts and experiences of youth on various health and policy issues through text messaging surveys. Designed to target adolescents and young adults across the United States, MyVoice aims to provide real-time insights into the perspectives of young people on timely subjects.

This innovative approach to engaging youth allows participants to voice their opinions on matters important to their demographic, which can include mental health, substance use, sexual health, education and disaster preparedness.

“Youth are significant stakeholders in developing strategies to be ready for disasters and their insights can lead to policy development that allow youth to prioritize the effective readiness strategies to mitigate the potentially traumatic impacts and promote individual and community resilience,” Kruger said.

Inclusion of young individuals in readiness planning is crucial. They provide unique perspectives that can greatly enhance strategies designed to boost resilience both at the individual and community levels. As climate change continues to be a contributing factor to the frequency and intensity of disaster events, timely and effective preparedness has never been more important.

The study’s findings highlight an opportunity to engage youth in readiness efforts that empower them and strengthen the larger emergency management framework. Young people’s capacities for innovation and communication are valuable assets in disaster response and recovery.

“Our research underscores the necessity of including young people as key stakeholders in disaster preparedness,” Kruger said. “As highlighted by the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction’s Youth Engagement Action Plan, their active contribution is indispensable.”