Health Disasters: Is Your State Ready?


Overall, America is prepared to deal with a health emergency. But some states are in far better shape than others, according to the 2016 National Health Security Preparedness Index.

The Index provides a comprehensive picture of health security preparedness available. It measures over 100 processes, procedures and statistics —ranging from flu vaccination rates, number of hospitals, and presence of food inspection programs; to infrastructure and planning measures such as participation in drills by public health laboratories, percentage of people covered by wireless 911, and hazard planning for public schools. The data is then crunched and a composite score is assigned.

The United States scores 6.7 on a 10-point scale for preparedness – up 3.6 percent since the Index launched three years ago.

Maryland is the highest ranked state with a 7.6 score, followed by New York (7.5), Minnesota (7.4), New Hampshire (7.3) and Vermont (7.3). Florida matched the U.S. overall score at 6.7, but many southern states struggled. Louisiana (5.6), Mississippi (5.8) and Alabama (5.9) scored the lowest in the nation.

There is a “preparedness gap” of 36 percent between highest and lowest states, with 16 states lagging significantly below the 6.7 national preparedness level. Unfortunately, some of the states with comparatively low levels of preparedness are located in geographic regions that face elevated risks of disasters, indicating a need for focused improvements in high-risk and low-resource areas.

You can check out your state’s score on the index map.

“In order to keep Americans safe, we need to know how well equipped every state in the nation is to prevent and manage widespread health emergencies,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funds and directs the Index. “Every sector needs a yardstick to clearly show where progress is being made and where improvement can occur. America’s health security is no exception.”

Other findings include:

  • Laboratory testing capabilities relevant to Zika have trended upward but are not universally available across the nation.
  • Laboratory testing capabilities relevant to drinking water have trended downward in the Index.
  • Fully compliant public drinking water systems trended downward.
  • Changes in employment patterns and practices have mixed effects on health security.

The index’s findings are broken down into six broad categories. Below are the scroes for the U.S. overall:

  • Incident and Information Management, or the ability to mobilize and manage resources during a health incident, scored 8.4 on the 10-point scale, the highest-scoring domain in the 2016 Index and a 2.4 percent improvement since the Index began in 2013;
  • Health Security Surveillance, or the ability to collect and analyze data to identify possible threats before they arise, scored 7.5, an improvement of 7.1 percent since 2013;
  • Countermeasure Management, or the ability to mitigate harm from biologic, chemical, or nuclear agents, scored 7.0, an improvement of 6.1 percent since 2013;
  • Environmental and Occupational Health, which measures the ability to prevent health impacts from environmental or occupational hazards, scored 6.4, a decline of 4.5 percent since the Index began, but flat compared to last year;
  • Community Planning and Engagement, which measures how communities mobilize different stakeholders to work together during times of crisis, scored 5.4, an improvement of 8.0 percent since 2013
  • Health Care Delivery, which includes the state of health care systems during everyday life, as well as in emergency situations, scored 5.1, a decline of 1.9 percent since 2013, but flat compared to last year.

Originally developed by the CDC as a tool to drive dialogue to improve health security and preparedness, the Index remains a collaborative effort, involving more than 35 organizations. Feedback from state preparedness directors, state health officials, and others helps shape the Index each year.

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