Glynn Cosker


The U.S. is generally prepared to manage public health emergencies like the Houston floods, a Zika virus outbreak or a potential bioterrorist attack, but health protections aren’t distributed evenly across the country, according to a new state-by-state analysis.

The 2016 National Health Security Preparedness Index, which measures how communities respond to and recover from “large-scale emergencies,” shows states getting better in areas like health security and engaging their communities than 2014 and 2015. But the national index score of 6.7 on a 10-point scale shows plenty of room for improvement.

“It’s good that it’s an improving score, but it’s a test we need to ace,” said Paul Kuehnert, assistant vice president for program at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funds the index, said in an interview.

Researchers examined how well the nation is prepared for managing an emergency by measuring everything from flu vaccination rates and how capable a community is to test water supplies to how well 911 systems and schools were prepared for disasters. The index was developed by 30 organizations working with the Centers for Disease Control.

What researchers found should be somewhat concerning in part because of the gaps between more prepared states and those that are not.

Zika2016 National Health Security Preparedness Index (Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

“The nation’s health protections are not distributed evenly across the U.S., with a preparedness gap of 36% between highest and lowest states in 2015,” the preparedness summary said. “A total of 18 states achieved preparedness levels that significantly exceeded the national average in 2015, with many of these leading states located along the Eastern seaboard or clustered in the Upper Midwest and Southwestern U.S. Conversely, 16 states lagged significantly below the national (emergency) preparedness level in 2015, including clusters of states in the Deep South and Mountain West regions.”

The U.S. is getting better at forming relationships across government agencies and community organizations than it used to, which is important because “community planning and engagement” had been the “weakest area of preparedness” in 2013, the report on the index showed.

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“The greatest gains that we saw over the three years were in this whole area of community resiliency and connectedness,” Kuehnert said. “When you think about any kind of disaster, to have a good response, various agencies across government and the community need to be connected.”

To come up with the overall index, 134 measures were used. “By combining 134 measures from more than 50 different sources, we gain a more complete picture of preparedness as a whole that can inform future directions and priorities,” Glen Mays, a University of Kentucky researcher who led a team that manages the index.


This article was written by Bruce Japsen from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.