In an Emergency, Is a Boomer or Millennial Better Prepared?

Maureen Salamon

November 10, 2017

ATLANTA — There are important differences between how people from different generations respond in an emergency, and public health officials have takeaways for the healthcare community.

Older generations are more likely to keep a 3-day supply of nonperishable food on hand, a working battery-operated radio, and extra batteries, according to a study of more than 4000 adults. And younger generations are more likely to keep a written household evacuation plan and agree to evacuate in the event of a disaster.

"Older generations may not be as physically healthy as younger ones and may deal with more diseases and chronic impairment, which explains why they may not be able to evacuate as readily or keep an evacuation plan," said study investigator Ransom Wyse, MPH, an epidemiologist with the Tennessee Department of Health in Nashville.

"Millennials, in particular, are less likely to own a home, and they own fewer things," he told Medscape Medical News. "That's probably why we're seeing that they're less likely to keep a 3-day supply of food or a battery-operated radio and batteries."

"We should get into the 'whys' of that but, at least on a surface level, we do see differences," Wyse said here at the American Public Health Association 2017 Annual Meeting.

Intergenerational Differences

The data were collected as part of the 2015 Tennessee Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which asked adults 18 years and older 11 questions related to emergency preparedness.

The researchers used Pew Research Center definitions to stratify generations.

Cohort Years of Birth
Millennial 1981 to 1995
Generation X 1965 to 1980
Baby boomer 1946 to 1964
Silent Generation Before 1946


Millennials were less likely than members of the Silent Generation to have a 3-day supply of water (1 gallon per day) for every person living in a residence (59.7% vs 63.6%), and a 3-day supply of nonperishable food (76.3% vs 88.8%).

Conversely, as age advances, the odds of keeping a written disaster evacuation plan and agreeing to evacuate in the event of a disaster decreased significantly. Millennials were more likely than baby boomers to have an evacuation plan (22.8% vs 16.8%).

"Public health interventions that strive to improve emergency preparedness should consider these generational differences when targeting their messages or proactive planning to improve responses and get more people to adhere to emergency evacuations and keep food and water" on hand, Wyse said.

It is not surprising that the older generations are less willing to evacuate in the event of disaster, said Fan Zhang, a biostatistician at the University of Nevada in Reno. She said she has observed this phenomenon in her own area of Nevada, which is often stricken by wildfires.

"Maybe middle-aged people take all their kids and move but, in our area, people in older generations stay at home, no matter what," Dr Zhang told Medscape Medical News.

Public health practitioners could use these findings to better serve groups that might not be optimally prepared in an emergency scenario, said Nathaniel Matthews-Trigg, MPH, from the University of Washington in Seattle.

For example, he noted, because of the potential for a large earthquake, the Red Cross has recommended that residents in his region stockpile 2 weeks of food and water — "which is a lot more than other places."

"You'd want to target people who say they don't keep extra supplies," Matthews-Trigg told Medscape Medical News.

Emergency preparedness outreach efforts can be introduced by pointing out the need to protect pets — typically a soft spot for their owners, he suggested.

"It's a good way to get people talking about it; it is a foot in the door to these conversations," he said.

Mr Wyse, Dr Zhang, and Mr Matthews-Trigg have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Public Health Association (APHA) 2017 Annual Meeting: Abstract 4076.2. Presented November 7, 2017.

Follow Medscape on Twitter @Medscape and Maureen Salamon @maureensalamon


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: