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Mountain West Is 'Mixed Bag' Of Disaster Preparedness, According To Report

Map of emergency preparednes.
Screenshot The National Health Security Preparedness Index
The Mountain West struggles with providing rapid health care response in rural areas, according to the study, but many communities also have comprehensive preparedness plans.

Utah and Colorado are above the national average in preparing for disasters, according to a new state-by-state analysis released Wednesday.

The National Health Security Preparedness Index (NHSPI), an annual report developed by researchers at the University of Kentucky, analyzes 129 different measures. Those include rapid health-care delivery, community planning and response to environmental hazards, the last of which is a great concern for the Mountain West, NHSPI director Glen Mays said.

“Whether it’s fires or flooding, potential hazards in the water, hazards in the air from fire or from industrial activities, this needs to be an area where we continue to keep our eye on for building capacity,” he said.

Colorado was among the best prepared states for protecting its citizens from environmental hazards. The state has a climate change adaptation plan and more than a quarter of its residents have flood insurance. Utah’s state government also has a climate change adaptation plan and it ranked high in community preparedness and emergency coordination.

Wyoming, however, ranked as the worst in regards to environmental emergencies. It struggled with monitoring and taking action to reduce hazards from failing infrastructure or natural disasters. A full list of the Mountain West’s ranking can be found on the NHSPI website.

Colorado and Utah ranked in the top 15 in overall emergency preparedness, while Nevada tied with Ohio as the worst-prepared states overall.

The nation as a whole has improved its health emergency and disaster preparedness by around 11% percent since 2003.

A big challenge facing the entire Mountain West region is access to health care when a disaster strikes, Mays said.

“We’ve got larger segments of populations living in rural and sparsely populated areas,” he said. “It’s always challenging to make sure we have good coverage of our health care facilities and our health care workforces in those areas.”

However, Mays said that many states in the Mountain West have strong coordination between local and state agencies and that many communities have comprehensive emergency preparedness plans.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Reno, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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