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Natural disasters are becoming more frequent, and the cost of recovering from them continues to grow. One of the most recent was Hurricane Ian, which slammed into Florida in September 2022.

In 2021, the U.S. experienced 20 separate billion-dollar natural disasters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate.gov website. Those disasters ranged from floods to fires and affected states from coast to coast.

How prepared a state is to respond to a natural disaster has a major influence on the impact that disaster will have and on the recovery process.

“If a state is frequently the target of a given disaster type, preparation for that threat is prioritized – in minds, on meeting agendas and in budgets – making it easier for municipal authorities to be prepared,” says K.C. Rondello, clinical associate professor, Public Health and Emergency Management at Adelphi University.

Making plans and executing them are two different things. "The biggest factor is coordination," Timothy Derham, CEO of Universal Casualty, an insurance risk retention group, says, "There are disaster plans ranging from the state level to the county level, but what actually matters is the ability to implement those plans."

When calculating its National Risk Index, FEMA uses a measure called the Community Resilience score to weigh just how well an area can deal with a natural disaster. A higher score indicates that the community will have an easier time recovering.

So, which states are most prepared to respond, and which states may struggle more to recover? To find out, Insurance.com analyzed FEMA’s Community Resilience score data and ranked each state (plus the District of Columbia). We also looked at that state’s average Risk Index and which type of disaster is most common.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • The top five states with the highest Community Resilience score count floods, hurricanes and severe storms as the most commonly declared natural disasters.
  • In the five states with the lowest Community Resilience score, fire is the most commonly declared natural disaster.
  • Alaska has the lowest Community Resilience score, but also has a Risk Index that’s well below average, indicating that it’s less likely to be impacted despite its low level of resilience.

The five states best prepared for a natural disaster

States tend to prepare for the natural disaster that is most frequent.

Earthquakes can (and do) occur anywhere in the United States. The same is true for tornadoes, windstorms and floods. However, not all regions of the country are equipped equally well to confront these disasters. This is in large part due to the variable priority a given hazard is assessed, and that is prompted by a disaster’s frequency,” Rondello says.

As a result, we’ve also included the most common natural disaster, based on the number of disasters declared, in each state. It’s important to note that not all states have the same level of risk of having a disaster declared, and not all states face the same type of disaster. To help make sense of the overall risk, we’ve also included the FEMA Risk Index, which considers community preparedness as one of the factors to rate the anticipated overall impact of a natural disaster.

The national average Risk Index is 10.6 and the average Community Resilience score is 54.59. These five states have the highest Community Resilience scores.

1. Minnesota

  • Community Resilience score: 59.1
  • Risk Index: 8.57
  • Most common disaster: Flood

Minnesota’s Community Resilience score is the highest in the nation, and its Risk Index falls below average as well. Since 1953, Minnesota declared a disaster for 29 floods, making it the most common natural disaster in the state. The predictable nature of spring flooding likely contributes to the state’s preparedness.

2. District of Columbia

  • Community Resilience score: 58.89
  • Risk Index: 14.99
  • Most common disaster: Severe storms

Despite having the highest overall Risk Index out of the top five, D.C. is number two for community resilience. Because risk is inversely proportional to community resilience in FEMA’s scoring, D.C.’s risk would have been a lot higher if it weren’t for D.C.’s high level of preparation. The most common disaster in D.C. is severe storms, with nine disasters declared since 1953.

3. Iowa

  • Community Resilience score: 57.9
  • Risk Index: 10.82
  • Most common disaster: Severe storms

Iowa’s Risk Index lands just above the national average, and the state has declared 31 natural disasters for severe storms since 1953. That’s the highest number in the top five list. Iowa also declared 29 flood disasters during that time. Despite those risks, Iowa ranks as the third most prepared for a natural disaster with a resilience index of 57.9.

4. Connecticut

  • Community Resilience score: 57.72
  • Risk Index: 8.76
  • Most common disaster: Hurricanes

Connecticut is the only state to land in the top five most prepared when hurricanes are the most common natural disaster. Hurricanes have caused the state to declare 14 disasters since 1953. Connecticut has a below-average Risk Index, however, that means it’s likely to be prepared and recover well the next time a hurricane strikes.

5. Massachusetts

  • Community Resilience score: 57.21
  • Risk Index: 10.06
  • Most common natural disaster: Severe storms

With a Risk Index that’s right on the national average, Massachusetts takes the No. 5 spot for preparedness. Severe storms beat t hurricanes as the most common natural disaster, with 12 and 11 disasters declared, respectively.

The five states that are the least prepared for a natural disaster

These states have a few things in common. Four out of five are in the western part of the country. Notably, fire is the most commonly declared natural disaster in all five, some of which have declared an enormous number of disasters over the years. The fact that fire is the top risk in these states is part of the reason these communities can’t be as prepared. Unlike floods and storms, fires are hard to predict.

“It is impossible for a state to prepare for all types of natural disasters with equal vigilance – there are real-world limitations on time, attention span, funding, and more,” Rondello says. States with many natural disasters may have to spread their resources more thinly.

1. Alaska

  • Community Resilience score: 47.18
  • Risk Index: 6.14
  • Most common natural disaster: Fire

Alaska stands out from this list because despite having the least resilience overall, it still has a low Risk Index. In fact, at 6.14, it’s lower than the national average and lower than any of the top five most prepared states. Why? It’s likely that although only one county in the state has a Risk Index above the “relatively low” ranking, Alaska’s terrain, location and weather make responding to disasters more difficult when they do happen.

2. Nevada

  • Community Resilience score: 48.6
  • Risk Index: 16.26
  • Most common natural disaster: Fire

Nevada’s dry, hot climate easily makes fire the most common natural disaster in the state. Nevada has made 75 natural disaster declarations for fires since 1953, far outstripping any other natural disaster in the state. On the California border, Washoe County has the highest Risk Index in Nevada, pushing the entire state into a higher Risk Index. The lower Community Resilience score means Nevada is likely to struggle more to recover.

3. Hawaii

  • Community Resilience score: 49.72
  • Risk Index: 18.01
  • Most common natural disaster: Fire

Although Hawaii makes most people think of volcanoes, only four disasters have been declared since 1953 due to eruptions, while 20 fires have resulted in a disaster declaration. Hawaii’s remote location and island terrain likely impact the difficulty of responding to a disaster.

4. Arizona

  • Community Resilience score: 49.77
  • Risk Index: 23.68
  • Most common natural disaster: Fire

Arizona has the second-highest overall Risk Index of any state. That means it’s highly likely to be adversely impacted by a natural disaster and will have a hard time recovering. Arizona has declared 73 disasters due to fires since 1953, and it’s by far the most common disaster in the state. Neighboring California has declared 278 fire disasters in the same time frame, and while it takes the number one slot in terms of the Risk Index, it stays well out of the top five thanks to higher community resilience.

5. New Mexico

  • Community Resilience score: 51.8
  • Risk Index: 14.23
  • Most common natural disaster: Fire

New Mexico, another state with many fires, takes the No. 5 slot for community resilience. Sixty-five fires have been declared disasters since 1953. With a Community Resilience score a full point ahead of Arizona, New Mexico’s greater preparedness helps the state land an overall Risk Index that’s almost 10 points lower.

How prepared is your state?

Find your state on the map below to see the average FEMA Community Resilience and Risk Indexes and the most common natural disaster.

Map
Table
AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DC DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY
StateAverage Risk Index, all counties (FEMA)Average Community Resilience Index, all counties (FEMA)Most common natural disaster (FEMA) and # of disaster declarations since 1953
Alabama10.9753.02Severe storms (43)
Alaska6.1447.18Fire (25)
Arizona23.6849.77Fire (73)
Arkansas12.952.53Severe storms (28)
California28.152.85Fire (278)
Colorado7.9353.12Fire (76)
Connecticut8.7657.72Hurricane (14)
Delaware13.2456.53Hurricane (10)
Florida19.6552.71Fire (67)
Georgia8.3653Severe storms (16)
Hawaii18.0149.72Fire (20)
Idaho8.252.36Fire (22)
Illinois9.8756.7Severe storms (25)
Indiana8.6655.55Severe storms (24)
Iowa10.8257.9Severe storms (31)
Kansas9.5852.28Severe storms (39)
Kentucky8.6553.81Severe storms (32)
Louisiana12.8555.9Hurricane (36)
Maine8.7256.91Severe storms (22)
Maryland9.7256.59Flood (10)
Massachusetts10.0657.62Severe storms (12)
Michigan7.6555.31Flood (12)
Minnesota8.5759.1Flood (29)
Mississippi11.5653.14Severe storms (38)
Missouri11.1354.75Severe storms (37)
Montana6.8354.43Fire (64)
Nebraska9.4356.36Severe storms (33)
Nevada16.2648.6Fire (75)
New Hampshire7.4356.57Severe storms (23)
New Jersey16.9256.68Severe storms (18)
New Mexico14.2351.8Fire (65)
New York11.4256.94Severe storms (28)
North Carolina13.5754.41Hurricane (33)
North Dakota6.1757.21Flood (32)
Ohio8.4756.84Severe storms (24)
Oklahoma12.3653.45Fire (106)
Oregon15.5353.29Fire (100)
Pennsylvania8.7956.8Flood (26)
Rhode Island7.5157.16Hurricane (10)
South Carolina12.7853.7Hurricane (17)
South Dakota8.0157.1Severe storms (31)
Tennessee10.1453.52Severe storms (36)
Texas12.8952.3Fire (258)
Utah7.2754.19Fire (33)
Vermont11.4256.94Severe storms (25)
Virginia6.554.92Severe storms (18)
Wahington D.C.14.9958.89Severe storms (9)
Washington14.5652.99Fire (128)
West Virginia7.3352.49Flood (31)
Wisconsin7.3456.91Severe storms (20)
Wyoming6.1551.91Fire (22)

What can you do to prepare for a natural disaster?

Your state has disaster resources available, but do you know what they are?

“Individual states have become more resilient with well-developed, comprehensive disaster mitigation and response plans spearheaded by experienced, well-educated, seasoned Emergency Management professionals. Unfortunately, these plans are often not well communicated to the public. Frequently, most laypeople don’t consider the importance of understanding their state’s preparations,” Rondello says.

In addition to educating yourself on state and county-level preparedness plans, you can take steps to make sure you and your family are ready when disaster strikes.

“While there will likely be federal, state and local resources available to assist in your disaster recovery, they should never be relied upon for sole support. These assets will inevitably be overburdened, incomplete and delayed in arriving. To the greatest extent possible, individuals should strive to be self-sufficient in their disaster mitigation planning,” Rondello says.

Ready.gov offers tips to help you prepare:

  • Make a plan. Using the simple disaster plan form provided, you can make sure the entire family has contact information and knows what to do and where to go. Discuss the plan with everyone in the family.
  • Know the risks. Know which type of disaster is likely to strike your area so you can make specific preparations.
  • Build an emergency kit. Start today and add to your emergency kit over time to keep the expense down. Include fresh water, non-perishable food (and a way to open it), blankets and clothes, supplies of any needed prescriptions, a first aid kit, batteries and a flashlight and copies of vital documents.

"[People] should also be prepared to leave on a moment's notice with enough cash on hand as well as a quick, ready-to-go bag with essential supplies," Derham says.

Make sure that you have the right insurance to protect you in the event of a disaster. While standard home insurance policies cover things like storms, they don’t cover floods or earthquakes. And in some states, windstorms require separate coverage.

"Protecting your property also includes making sure you understand how your insurance may or may not help cover damage caused by severe weather," Tanya Robinson, Associate Manager with Allstate, says.

Talk to your insurance company to be sure you have the coverage you need before you need it.

“During [the] non-disaster/inter-disaster period, individuals have the greatest opportunity to harden their homes, become more resilient and prepare for a variety of different hazards,” Rondello says.

Methodology

To rank states for disaster preparedness, Insurance.com used FEMA’s Community Resilience score, which rates states for their ability to respond to and reduce the impact of a natural disaster. FEMA’s National Risk Index, which is calculated using the Community Resilience score, was also used to present overall risk. The average score in each category across the state was used for ranking. The most common disaster in each state was sourced from FEMA’s Disaster Declarations for States and Counties.

Sources:

  1. Billion-dollar disaster report: 2021 U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in historical context