With Growing Concern Around Extreme Weather Events, Older Adults Say National Government Is Not Doing Enough

Three in ten older adults do not have any emergency measures in place in the event of a public health emergency like a flood or wildfires.

CHICAGO, October 28, 2021 – About 45% of Americans age 50 and older in the United States do not believe the national government has prepared the country for public health emergencies, according to new research from NORC at the University of Chicago powered by the AARP-NORC Foresight 50+ panel.

Public health emergencies may include disease outbreaks, like COVID-19, and severe weather events, including major storms, hurricanes, heatwaves, floods, and wildfires. So far this year, the United States has experienced 18 separate weather disasters costing at least $1 billion each.

More than half of older adults (about 55%) express at least some confidence in state and local government officials to prepare their community for public health emergencies like natural disasters, compared to 45% that express confidence in the national government’s preparation.

“Extreme weather events have increased in severity and frequency in recent years. These emergencies have ravaged communities, putting vulnerable populations like older adults at risk of losing their homes, livelihoods, or even their lives,” said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at NORC.

Older Adults' Confidence in Government to Prepare for Public Health Emergencies

Older adults are growing more concerned by extreme weather events
The survey found 79% of older adults are at least somewhat concerned about natural disasters and extreme weather events such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or wildfires. Forty percent say they are more concerned about natural disasters and extreme weather events than five years ago. However, only a quarter (24%) of adults age 50 and older anticipate being affected by natural disasters in the future.

Twenty-eight percent of older adults report that they live in a high-risk area. At least one in eight older adults (13%) said they did not know whether they lived in a high-risk area for natural disasters.

“Given the devastating floods, hurricanes, and wildfires this year alone, it is understandable that older adults report being more concerned about natural disasters than they were five years ago,” said Sarah Redman, senior research scientist at NORC. “As severe weather patterns change and become more common, it is essential that people have an updated understanding about the threats to their homes and communities.”

Some older adults are unprepared for a public health emergency
Older adults have a higher risk for chronic health conditions and may have physical and cognitive needs that affect their ability to respond when disaster strikes. Many Americans have been forced to shelter in place or even evacuate their homes due to the increased threat and predicted damage of natural disasters.

“Emergencies can exacerbate the needs of older adults and result in life-threatening situations,” said Alycia Bayne, principal research scientist at NORC. “There are basic steps that older adults and their families can take to prepare for a disaster or emergency, but many aren’t taking them to be safe the next time disaster strikes.”

NORC’s survey analysis revealed three in 10 older adults do not have any emergency measures in place, such as a stockpile of nonperishable food and water, extra medications, or disaster insurance. Only a quarter (25%) of older adults have an evacuation plan in place.


The self-funded poll was conducted between September 16 and 20, 2021, during a monthly Omnibus survey. It included 1,057 interviews with a nationally representative sample (margin of error +/- 4.24 percent). The AARP-NORC’s Foresight 50+ probability-based panel is designed to be representative of U.S. adults age 50 and older. A detailed methodology is available here.

About the Spotlight on Aging
NORC at the University of Chicago’s Spotlight on Aging is a series of quick-hitting national surveys on issues vital to Americans age 50 and older, conducted using AARP-NORC’s Foresight 50+ Omnibus panel.

About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.

For more information, contact Eric Young at NORC at young-eric@norc.org or
(703) 217-6814 (cell).