This study examined disaster preparedness, risk perception, and their association in rural hospitals in the United States. The focus of disaster preparedness largely has been centered on urban areas, in part because of the perception that more concentrated areas have an increased risk of a disastrous event. Therefore, it was hypothesized that risk perception may be a contributing factor for adequate preparedness in rural areas. This research was a component of a larger study of rural hospital preparedness. The objective of this study was to describe the perceived risk of disaster events and the status of disaster preparedness in rural hospitals. It was hypothesized that there is a positive association between risk perception and preparedness.
Secondary data analysis was conducted using the National Study of Rural Hospitals (2006–2007) from Johns Hopkins University. The study, based on a regionally stratified, random sample of rural hospitals, consisted of a mailed questionnaire and a follow-up telephone interview with each hospital's Chief Executive Officer (n = 134). A model of disaster preparedness was utilized to examine seven elements of preparedness. Risk perception was examined through seven perceived risk threats.
The results indicated that rural hospitals were moderately prepared, overall,(78% prepared on average), with higher preparedness in education/training (89%) and isolation/decontamination (91%); moderate preparedness in administration/planning (80%), communication/notification (83%), staffing/support (66%), and supplies/pharmaceuticals/laboratory support (70%); and lower preparedness in surge capacity (64%).
The respondents reported greater perceived risk from disasters due to natural hazards (79% reported moderate to high risk) and vehicular accidents (77%) than from humanmade disasters (23%). Results obtained from logistic regression models indicated that there was no statistically significant difference in the odds of a hospital being prepared overall when comparing high versus low risk perception (OR = 0.61; 95% CI = 0.26–1.44). Positive associations were identified only between higher perceived risk overall and the subcategory of education/training preparedness (OR = 1.24; 95% CI = 1.05–1.27).
Rural hospitals reported being moderately prepared in the event of a disaster with a low perception of risk for human-made disasters. Further research should be conducted to identify predictors of preparedness in rural hospitals in order to optimize readiness for potential disaster events.