From hurricanes to disease outbreaks to wildfires, some part of the United States is usually facing an imminent natural disaster that could potentially endanger lives and cost millions of dollars. Hurricane Katrina destroyed 300,000 homes and caused more than $100 billion in damage. The Ebola strain, which devastated parts of West Africa in 2014, infected or killed several people in the U.S., and under different circumstances, could have been much deadlier. Wildfires raging in Alberta, Canada currently cover land mass roughly the size of Rhode Island, and similar fires burn millions of acres and kill Americans every year.
The federal government, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, plays a significant role in providing support and coordinating relief efforts in crisis situations. State governments, however, also play meaningful roles in taking on the challenge of responding to a disaster, and not all states are equally prepared. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a number of policies and spending habits on the state level to determine which states are the most and least prepared for natural disasters.
To determine which states are best prepared for an environmental disaster or a public health emergency, 24/7 Wall St. rated states based on criteria determined by the National Health Security Preparedness Index, a program of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. For each state, we reviewed certain disaster preparedness policies, such as whether the state mandates child-care facilities to have emergency evacuation plans, whether state public health labs have enough staff to properly combat a serious disease outbreak, and whether the state has a firm plan to combat issues that can stem from climate change. Currently, just 15 states have such a plan.
We also reviewed states on measures including the number of physicians and emergency medical technicians per capita, as well as changes in emergency management funding.
There does not appear to be a clear reason why some states adopt more recommended emergency preparedness policies while others do not, or why some states spend more than others and have more staff on hand to deal with potential disaster. States that tend to be more friendly to larger government involvement, including New York and Maryland, ranked as relatively well prepared. However, so did states with smaller governments and budgets, such as Mississippi and Kentucky.
Some states are relatively less affected by natural disasters, while some states are significantly more disaster-prone, be it to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, or disease outbreaks. This may explain why states such as Utah and Michigan, which have relatively few reported major disasters that required FEMA intervention, tend to rank worse for emergency preparedness. However, some of the states that tend to be particularly at risk, including Florida and Texas, rank among the worst for implementing policies that can help avoid the worst effects of a disaster.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hurricane Katrina had destroyed more than 300,000 million homes. It has been corrected to read “300,000 homes.”