Unpredictable weather disasters can take many forms, from hurricanes and blizzards to tornadoes and raging wildfires. While some are more common in certain areas – for example, severe tropical storms in Florida – they can strike anywhere. Yes, even California can get more than 6 feet of snow in just one day – this was one of the biggest snowfall records in U.S. history.
Throughout history, people have learned from their experiences. After an unexpected problem has occurred, they tried to think of how to prevent or minimize the consequences of future disasters.
A recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that the United States is not as prepared as it should be for natural hazards. For each $1 spent on hazard mitigation today, the country can save $6 in future disaster costs, like spending money on building stronger buildings to reduce long-term damage. While the country as a whole can be better prepared, the level of preparedness varies between states, and some states are better prepared to face whatever Mother Nature throws at them than others – and these are the worst natural catastrophes in every state.
24/7 Tempo identified the best and worst prepared states for a weather emergency based on four factors: the number of natural disasters declared per state; how much money each state allocated for emergency management; the number of National Guard members, who usually responds first; and the infrastructure score of every state.
Extreme weather events are becoming more common. Several of the most powerful hurricanes of all time occurred within the last 10 years. An emergency is usually declared when local government can’t handle the weather event and when authorities and resources, such as incident command system and extra funds for more personnel, equipment, and supplies, are unavailable. In general, the most prepared states for weather emergencies, according to our index, tend to be those that have declared states disasters the fewest times.
States that allocate more money towards emergency management, such as funds for fires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and hazardous materials, rank as better prepared. Three of the five best prepared states also set among the highest shares of their total annual budget for the department in charge of handling emergencies.
Natural disasters can often result in medical emergencies. The risk of a disease outbreak is much higher after a weather catastrophe primarily due to population displacement. There hasn’t been a public health emergency on U.S. soil in years, partially because health officials have become more prepared — and these are the most prepared states for medical emergencies.
To identify the best and worst prepared states for unpredictable weather emergencies, 24/7 Tempo constructed an index of four measures: 1) the number of disasters declared by the state since 1953 as published by the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA), adjusted for the current population; 2) the number of National Guard members in reserve in the state, as published by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Manpower Data Center on March 31, 2019, adjusted for the current population; 3) the state’s FY2017 emergency department budget as a share of that state’s total budget, as published in a May 2018 paper published by SUNY Albany: “Homeland Security/Emergency Management Budgets by Each U.S. State: Why do some states allocate so much more money than others do?”; 4) each state’s Physical Environment and Infrastructure subdomain score out of 10 from the 2018 National Health Security Preparedness Index, which rates states based on the quality of bridges, flood insurance policies, populations in flood zones, climate adaptation plans, and the integrity of water control systems. State population figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Survey and are as of July 1, 2018.