Public Safety

Emergency Preparedness

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Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness is being ready ahead of time for a range of serious public threats or disasters that might occur. With adequate emergency preparedness, communities will have the knowledge and tools they need to deal with such dangers.

Why is This Important?

When crises occur everyone turns to the government, hoping it is ready to respond. This ability to respond is the most important component of any society's emergency preparedness program. Planning, organizing, coordinating with other agencies and organizations, education and training, drills and exercises, public awareness campaigns, and quality assurance are all important aspects of emergency preparedness programs.

Like most states, Virginia faces a broad set of potential disasters that includes floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, winter storms, disease epidemics, terrorism, chemical spills, and radiation leaks. Virginia's Hazard Mitigation Plan estimates that the annualized loss to the Commonwealth from natural hazards alone is over $240 million in damages to property and crops.

How is Virginia Doing?

Disaster Declarations by State.  See text for explanation.

Based on data reported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Virginia is at higher risk than most states for making a disaster declaration, as the Commonwealth’s 47 total major disaster declarations since 1953 consistently exceed the national average (42). Among Virginia’s neighbors, Tennessee had the highest number (53) of declarations, while North Carolina (43) and Maryland (25) were lower. Wyoming had the lowest number of disaster declarations (9) over the same time span.

Virginia is one of 31 states that have received full accreditation by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). Virginia renewed its accreditation in April 2010 by qualifying for expanded standards, though it has yet to renew its accreditation for the newer 2014-2016 standards. EMAP accreditation demonstrates that an emergency management program meets rigorous national standards for documented compliance in 15 functional areas that include planning and procedures; resource management; training; exercises, evaluations and corrective actions; and communications and warning. Although EMAP is voluntary, it fosters benchmarking and continuous improvement in local and state government emergency management.

National Measures of Preparedness

Trust for America's Health, a national non-profit organization, gave Virginia a score of 8 out of a possible 10 in its 2015 annual report on infectious disease and bioterrorism preparedness. Criteria include measures for childhood vaccinations, healthcare-acquired infections (e.g., MRSA), climate change planning, and emerging threat preparedness. Virginia was among the top 5 states in its preparedness level, along with Maryland and Tennessee. North Carolina dropped to a score of 6 from 8 the year before. The other states rounding out the Top 5 were Massachusetts and Vermont.

The National Health Security Preparedness Index (NHSPI) provides another measure of the collective preparedness of states for health threats and emergencies; preparedness indicators cover areas such as incident and information management, health security surveillance, and environmental and occupational health. In 2014, Virginia received an overall NHSPI rating of 8.4 on a 10-point scale, ranking it 1st among states. The national average rose a bit to 7.5. Among peer states, Maryland was at 8.1 and North Carolina and Tennessee were at 7.6.

Community Programs and Measures

Many communities across the U.S. participate in the National Weather Service StormReady program, which indicates that they have taken concrete steps to improve preparedness for hazardous weather events. Approximately 63 percent of Virginia's population resides in localities that are designated as StormReady, compared to 49 percent nationwide. However, Virginia's rate is lower than peer states Tennessee (85%), North Carolina (77%), and Maryland (66%). The leading states are Delaware, Florida, and South Carolina, where all localities are credited as StormReady.

Among Virginia's regions, the Hampton Roads area has the highest percentage of population in StormReady localities (87%), with the Northern region next at 79 percent. The Southside region (12%) and Valley region (26%) have the lowest percentages.

Participation in the Community Rating System helps flood-prone communities mitigate flood risks and improve their flood emergency response. Residents of these communities also qualify for lower-cost flood insurance rates. Among the 285 Virginia communities in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), 21 also participate in the Community Rating System (CRS), for a participation rate of 7.4 percent. Nationally, that rate is 5.6 percent. The highest participation rates for states with at least 10 NFIB communities is Florida (47%).

Volunteer Efforts

Citizen volunteers play a key role in emergency preparedness. Volunteer firefighters and volunteers for non-profit organizations such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army are often on the front lines assisting with disaster response and recovery.

The Citizen Civilian Corps is a volunteer effort organized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that provides citizen emergency preparedness training and organizes volunteers to support first responders. Citizen Civilian Corps currently serve 66 percent of the Virginia population through local councils. Maryland is higher at 95 percent, while North Carolina and Tennessee are both lower at 29 percent. The leading states are Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Oregon, where all of the population is served by Citizen Civilian Corp Councils. The national average is 65 percent.

What Influences Emergency Preparedness?

Virginia's geographical diversity, from mountains to shoreline, means that the Commonwealth is open to a variety of natural disasters ranging from severe thunderstorms to winter storms, from hurricanes to geological hazards like landslides. In addition, Virginia prepares for manmade threats -- such as radiological and HazMat problems and terrorist incidents -- by assessing vulnerabilities, mitigating hazards, planning and coordinating assets and resources, and practicing what to do in an emergency.

What is the State's Role?

Despite best efforts, disasters will happen, but knowing how to deal with them helps to reduce loss of life and property. Under the overall coordination of the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, and led by core preparedness agencies such as the Departments of Emergency Management, Health, and Transportation, all state agencies share a common goal to strengthen the culture of preparedness. They work with local government, state and federal agencies, and voluntary organizations to provide resources and expertise.

Grants from the federal Department of Homeland Security help support statewide and regional projects for improving Virginia's capabilities to plan for and respond to man-made and natural emergencies.

Page last modified June 29, 2015
Disaster Declarations by State

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

ATSDR's Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system captures incident and facility information and data on health outcomes from HazMat accidents. Analyzing this data can give disaster planners valuable insights into the kinds of accidents and resultant injuries likely to occur in their own communities.

Emergency Management Accreditation Program,

Current and archival data on weather emergencies is available from NOAA,

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management,

The Virginia Department of Health,

The Centers for Disease Control,

The Federal Emergency Management Agency,

Trust for America's Health:
Investing in America's Health (2015),
State Data (2009-2014),

National Health Security Preparedness Index (NHSPI). The NHSPI measures state preparedness along five dimensions utilizing 128 measures drawn from 35 different sources. These dimensions include health surveillance, incident and information management, countermeasure management, community planning and engagement, and surge management.

National Weather Service StormReady program. In order to be designated Stormready, a community must (a) establish a 24-hour emergency operations center, (b) make available two or more ways to send weather warnings and forecasts to the community, (c) promote awareness of storm readiness through community presentations, (d) create a hazardous weather plan that incorporates training and emergency exercices.
Note: StormReady population coverage is based on 2013 U.S. Census population estimates and StormReady county designations received from the National Weather Service.

Community Rating System (CRS) Participation as percentage of NFIB (National Flood Insurance Board), Federal Emergency Management Agency, counts based on May 2012. Communities are rated on scale from 9 (worst) to 1(best) based on flood reduction activities undertaken in the areas of (a) public information, (b) mapping and regulations, (c) flood damage reduction, and (d) warning and response. Each CRS point improvement results in a 5 percent discount on flood insurance premiums for properties enrolled in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

ISO Public Protection Classification (PPC) Ratings. PPC ratings are based on a community's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), which measures important components of a community's fire protection system. These components include (a) emergency communications, (b) fire department equipment, staffing, training, and response times, (c) water supply, and (d) community risk reduction.
Note: PPC data were not available for Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, and Washington

Citizen Corps Councils. The Citizen Corps Council was established to organize volunteer activities to make communities safer.
Note: Service Population based on 2000 Census population data

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Emergency Preparedness in Virginia

Performance Trend:  Trend is improving!
State Influence:

National Ranking: Virginia was an early pioneer in preparedness efforts and generally remains among the best states for preparedness.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and their Ready Virginia site gives citizens an easy, 1-2-3 way to learn how to prepare for common emergencies and potential seasonal disasters and connects them with a variety of needed resources. VDEM also offers sophisticated training courses for first responders on mitigation, response, and recovery.

Virginia Citizen Corps, part of the national Citizen Corps program, directly involves Virginia citizens in homeland security and emergency preparedness.

Additional Information

Through its READY.GOV site, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers the public a family communications plan and disaster kit; it also provides valuable resources for pet care during a time of crisis.

Predicting seasonal storms and tracking hurricanes are just some of the activities the National Weather Service provides to prepare Americans for the possibility of bad weather and its effects.