updated 11/17/2005 7:35:33 PM ET 2005-11-18T00:35:33

A majority of Americans say they are no better prepared for a disaster than they were before Hurricane Katrina and have less confidence in their government to protect them.

Yet most people will keep relying on state and local officials in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, according to two polls and an accompanying analysis by New York University’s Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response.

The research was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

“Americans right now are not prepared to last three hours on their own, let alone three days,” said NYU professor Paul C. Light, the report’s author. “They are still as dependent on government, but have less confidence.

“You put the complacency with the potential confusion and what you end up with is a recipe for chaos,” Light said in an interview.

The report drew its conclusions from two polls, taken before and after Katrina, that were conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates.

Among the findings:

  • Fifty-seven percent of people said they were at about the same level of preparedness after Katrina as before, while 21 percent said they were somewhat more prepared; 12 percent much more prepared.
  • Forty-three percent said the federal government is only somewhat prepared to respond to terrorist bombings and flu epidemics. Also, 46 percent believe Washington is not fully ready for another hurricane or floods.
  • After Katrina hit, 15 percent of people with a high school education or less said they were now better prepared for a disaster; the rate for those who attended college was 7 percent.

Light said people with a college education and higher incomes are traditionally more ready for a catastrophe, meaning that Katrina “closed the gap,” he said.

A lesson not learned
The Homeland Security Department has struggled with how to persuade people to prepare themselves after a disaster.

Many Florida residents failed to evacuate or stock up on food, water and other essentials before Hurricane Wilma slammed into the state’s southern tip last month, even though they had a week’s notice of the storm’s arrival and the memory of Katrina’s devastation.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff two weeks ago said that individual preparedness was a “civic virtue” — one that frees up government resources to assist the elderly, poor or sick.

Light planned to release the report Friday with Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who heads a special House committee investigating the government’s preparations and responses to Katrina.

Davis said he agreed with the report’s conclusions for sharpening the Homeland Security Department’s focus on preparedness. The department is awaiting congressional approval of a new office specifically assigned to preparedness missions.

“It’s no surprise that Americans have lost confidence in government,” Davis said in a statement. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

“Maybe enactment of some of these recommendations could serve as Katrina’s silver lining,” he said.

The pre-Katrina telephone poll of 1,506 adults was conducted July 14-28, a month before the storm struck. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The second poll of 1,004 adults was conducted Oct. 10-16, about five weeks after Katrina came ashore. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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