Given the events of Hurricane Katrina it should come as no surprise that a large majority of the nation's population is not fully prepared for disaster.

Or shouldn't it?

Ironically, what happened in the Gulf Coast region and in other areas where disasters have hit are solid evidence that planning ahead for the worst is the best approach.

"Although it may seem overwhelming to prepare both physically and financially for a major disaster, there are many small steps consumers can start taking now that can add up quickly in a very short period of time," said Ed Ojdana, group president of Experian Interactive, a Costa Mesa, CA-based information gathering giant.

Experian recently teamed up with the Gallup organization to measure America's disaster preparedness and found only 15 percent of the nation's population is fully prepared for the Big One -- whether it be a storm, fire or earthquake.

Forty three percent said they are somewhat prepared, 18 percent said they are not too prepared and 23 percent -- four in 10 -- said they are not at all prepared.

The Experian-Gallup Poll was part of the Personal Credit Index, a monthly nationwide survey of households to measure consumers' debt levels, monthly payment burdens, credit ratings and debt extension capabilities. The sampling that included emergency preparedness questions was conducted Sept. 20-26, 2005, and included 1,001 adults, 18 and over, randomly selected from across the country.

Fortunately, most consumers have many of the basic items that could prove crucial should disaster strike -- 95 percent have flashlights, 90 percent have food, and 85 percent have batteries, 77 percent have a portable radio, 73 percent have a first-aid kit, 71 percent have bottled water and 65 percent said they have credit card, bank account and other financial numbers and information in one place -- hopefully above potential flood levels or out of the fault, fire or tornado zone.

That's some good news, but there's bad news too.

"It's great to see from our recent survey that most consumers have many of the basic physical needs, but it's troubling to see the number who are not financially prepared," Ojdana said.

Only 51 percent of the population has an emergency fund in place should their income suddenly stop. Of those, two in three (69 percent) have cash on hand in case of an emergency. Of those with cash on hand, only 27 percent say they have $1,000 or more.

Three in four consumers (75 percent) say they would use their savings account as a source of money in case of an emergency, while 56 percent say they would use their credit cards, and 50 percent say they would borrow money from a family member.

Thirty-seven percent say they would use their home-equity account as a source of money in case of an emergency, and 39 percent say they would use their 401(k) retirement account.

Some of those approaches to an emergency fund could be misguided.

Unless cash on hand is secured and out of harms way when disaster strikes, it could go up in flames, be washed away, carried aloft or buried in the rubble.

If the power goes, there could be substantial delays in obtaining cash from bank-held savings, using credit cards or tapping any monies electronically.

Home equity could be unavailable if, prior to the disaster, it hasn't been tapped and disaster destroys the home (collateral), insurance coverage is inadequate to fully rebuild and jobs are lost.

Hurricane Katrina came with all those conditions.

Even the most charitable lender has to consider the risk of lending to those who are unfortunately suddenly homeless and jobless.

Perhaps the study's most significant finding is that it isn't easy preparing for the worst, but not planning only makes matters worse.

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