(NaturalNews) Residents of New Jersey, New York and other Atlantic states recently ravaged by superstorm Sandy know better than almost every other American that their states were simply not adequately prepared for the carnage visited upon them by a once-in-a-lifetime weather event. That said, several other states are equally unprepared for such storms - or a host of other man-made or natural disasters, despite federal and state governments having spent hundreds of billions "preparing" for such emergencies since the 9/11 attacks.
A new report finds that two states - Kansas and Montana - are particularly unprepared, while some others, notably Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Vermont, have done a better job of maintaining a state of readiness.
'It's a grim reckoning'
Recently a pair of nonprofit organizations released a report entitled, "Ready or Not?", a 79-page analysis of public health preparedness, which measured the ability of local hospitals, departments of health and other agencies to prevent or respond to emergencies ranging from major influenza outbreaks, large weather events, bioterrorism or other natural disasters like major tornadoes or earthquakes.
"It's a grim reckoning," Reuters reported. "The assessment is based on how many of 10 key benchmarks a state met, such as whether it holds drills to make sure public health workers can respond quickly to, say, a catastrophic release of radiation, and whether its labs can work overtime to identify a mystery disease."
According to the report no state met all 10 benchmarks, but clearly some did better than others. This year, 35 states met less than seven of the 10; only five met eight of 10.
Two years ago, by contrast, more states did better overall: 17 met at least nine of the benchmarks in 2010 and 25 met seven or eight; no state met fewer than five benchmarks.
"The report found that while there has been significant progress toward improving public health preparedness over the past 10 years, particularly in core capabilities, there continue to be persistent gaps in the country's ability to respond to health emergencies, ranging from bioterrorist threats to serious disease outbreaks to extreme weather events," said said the analysis by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"In the past decade, there have been a series of significant health emergencies, including extreme weather events, a flu pandemic and foodborne outbreaks," said Dr. Jeffrey Levi, president of the Trust for America's Health. "But, for some reason, as a country, we haven't learned that we need to bolster and maintain a consistent level of health emergency preparedness. Investments made after September 11th, the anthrax attacks and Hurricane Katrina led to dramatic improvements, but now budget cuts and complacency are the biggest threats we face."
The report said funding cuts which states have implemented in the wake of the 2008-09 recession have hurt readiness overall.
Shrinking budgets have led to a reduction in preparedness
In particular, the report found:
-- Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin scored highest overall, meeting eight of 10 benchmarks, while Kansas and Montana only met three. Nevada, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii and New Jersey were in the next-lowest tier.
-- Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and Virginia met seven of the 10 measurements.
-- Twenty-nine states have cut public health funding from fiscal years 2010 through 2012, "with 23 states cutting funds for a second year in a row and 15 for three consecutive years," a summary of the report says.
-- Federal funds for state and local preparedness have also fallen - 38 percent from FY 2005-2012 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funds, which have been adjusted for inflation).
-- Several states have reported that gains made in overall preparedness after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are eroding, "and since 2008, budget cuts have resulted in more than 45,700 job losses at state and local health departments."
-- Only two states met the national goal of vaccinating 90 percent of young children 19-36 months old against pertussis (whooping cough); this year Washington state is dealing with one of the worst pertussis outbreaks in recent history.
"Public health preparedness has improved leaps and bounds from where we were 10 years ago," said Paul Kuehnert, MS RN Director of the Public Health Team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "But severe budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels threaten to undermine that progress. We must establish a baseline of 'better safe than sorry' preparedness that should not be crossed."
As we saw in the aftermath of super-sized Hurricane Sandy (and, really, countless natural disasters prior to Sandy), you can't rely on some government agency to save you, and this latest report confirms. Preparedness is an individual responsibility.