Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Response: Evidence from Sales of Emergency Supplies Before and After Hurricanes

Government information warns households to acquire emergency supplies as hurricanes threaten and directs households to stay off roads after hurricanes make landfall. Do households follow this advice? If so, who, when, and how much? We provide novel evidence. We combine forecast and landfall data for U.S. hurricanes between 2002 and 2012 with extensive scanner data on sales of bottled water, batteries, and flashlights. We find that sales of emergency supplies increase when a location is threatened by hurricane. The bulk of the sales increases occur immediately prior to forecasted landfall. The average increase in sales after landfall is large and statistically significant. Observed emergency preparation as hurricanes threaten is moderately higher in coastal, wealthier, and whiter areas. Ex-post emergency responses after hurricanes make landfall are sharply higher in African American, lower income, and less educated areas. Our results suggest that households do not follow government advice.