The terrorist attacks of 2001 prompted Latinos and African Americans in Los Angeles County to prepare more vigorously for such disasters than did whites or Asians, according to a study published this month.
The results were surprising, as national data have generally shown that whites tend to be more prepared overall than minorities for such disasters, said the study's lead author, David Eisenman, who is a researcher with Rand Corp. and a professor at UCLA.
After 9/11 and the anthrax mailings in 2001, 37% of Latinos and 31% of blacks bought additional supplies such as food, water or clothing, compared with 21% of whites and 19% of Asian Americans.
When income and education levels were held constant, blacks were nearly twice as likely than whites to have developed a plan in the event of an attack -- such as identifying an emergency meeting location for family members and determining who would pick up children at school.
The analysis, which was based on telephone interviews with more than 1,000 people between October 2002 and February 2003, did not address the reason for the racial or ethnic gaps. But Eisenman said that in general, the more danger people perceive, the more likely they are to prepare.
The study also showed that disabled people, adults with children at home, people older than 30 and foreign-born people were more likely to have made further preparations for a terrorism attack.
In focus groups for a follow-up study, some Latinos said memories of natural disasters in Latin America showed they could not depend on government help after a disaster.
Of particular note was the devastating 8.0 earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985, killing about 10,000 people.
"They knew what it was like not to get service for days and days," Eisenman said.
What also may be contributing to the preparedness gap is a sense among minority communities that they won't be the first people to receive help -- a sentiment reinforced by how many poor and black people suffered after Hurricane Katrina, said Nancy Ibrahim, associate director of Esperanza, a South Central Los Angeles nonprofit that promotes affordable housing. Ibrahim was not affiliated with the study.
Referring to South Central Los Angeles, which is predominantly Latino and African American, Ibrahim said: "This is not necessarily the place that we would expect to have folks coming out to look for survivors. It just isn't. That's just a feeling that is widely felt."
Although most of those surveyed believed a terrorism attack was likely in Los Angeles County, only 28% overall said they had purchased new supplies to prepare for one.
"We still have some work to do," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County's public health director and a study co-author.
The study was published in the January edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
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Preparing for terror
Latinos and blacks were more likely than whites and Asians to prepare vigorously for terrorism after the attacks of 2001. Percent who purchased additional emergency supplies:
Asian/Pacific Islander: 19.1%
American Indian/other: 19.2%
With minor dependents: 35.3%
Country of origin
U.S. born: 23.4%
Foreign born: 35.3%
Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine