Report: Utah has fewer disaster declarations than most states but ranks in the middle for preparedness

This 2017 file photos shows destroyed homes and wreckage left behind from the Brian Head fire near Panguitch Lake, Garfield County, Utah, June 27, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE – A Native American legend has it that when the first white settlers arrived in the West, especially Southern California, they asked the local inhabitants where they should settle.

In the valleys? “No,” the Native Americans replied. “Too many floods.”

In the mountains? “No,” the Native Americans replied. “Too many fires.”

Where should we settle then? “Back east,” was the reply.

In a recent survey, the automotive and marine product company Gold Eagle ranked all 50 states’ level of preparedness for natural disasters, such as flooding, fires and severe weather.

Image courtesy Gold Eagle products | St. George News

A disaster is declared when both the state and local governments are not capable of responding to a weather event due to its size, strength or destruction.

Utah was ranked 30th for disaster preparedness.

The Gold Eagle survey factored in data from the following sources:

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided the number of disasters in each state between 1953 and 2017.
  • National Guard, which is a first responder when emergencies are declared; the survey looked at the number of members per capita.
  • American Society of Civil Engineers for assessments of roads, bridges and buildings.
  • State and local governments’ emergency management budgets per capita.

The survey weighted the results of each factor to calculate an overall preparedness score.

Texas – which had 255 disaster declarations, including wildfires, floods and hurricanes – was ranked as the least prepared state on the list.

The most prepared state, Iowa, had 63 disaster declarations, mostly from flooding.

While Utah was ranked 30th for preparedness, the state was lower on the list as far as the number of disaster declarations by FEMA. With 31 declarations, Utah ranked 42 out of the 50 states.

Pete Kuhlmann, director of Washington County Emergency Services, said flooding earlier this month was to be expected during monsoon season.

“The water volume was higher than we expected, but these storms move around at random.”

Water floods Dammeron Valley following a heavy rainstorm, Washington County, Utah, July 14, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Dallin Spackman, St. George News

While many homes were damaged by flooding in Dammeron Valley and Washington City, homeowners won’t be able to recover damages from the state or county.

As for federal relief, “FEMA has a formula for disaster relief,” Kuhlmann said. “We had some homes with flooded basements, but most were first-floor damages. We don’t expect any relief.”

He said the county has had three recent declared disaster declarations, the worst in 2005 when flooding caused $4 million in damages and destroyed 25 homes.

“We completely lost 25 homes in that flood and still didn’t qualify for relief.”

Utah may have the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” but it doesn’t rank in the top five for natural snow disasters, a category dominated by New England states.

Among Utah’s bordering states, Colorado and Wyoming were ranked seventh and eighth among the best prepared.

And the Native Americans’ advice was correct: While California may be ranked No. 12 for preparedness, the state was ranked worst for fires and second for flooding.

Email: rrees@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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