During the weekend the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced a list of the most dangerous areas of the United States, naming Los Angeles County as the riskiest place to live in the country.
While the pandemic was not counted as one of the major risks of the National Risk Index survey, other disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, and wildfires were. Also included in the calculations were how often disasters strike, how many people would be affected, how much property would be affected, how vulnerable the people of the county are, and how quickly a county can return to normal.
However, the NRI raised some concerns, with many citing its accuracy. Many questioned how the New York City area, for example, had a higher tornado risk than cities such as Oklahoma City. In California, many also questioned why natural disasters had high risks in Los Angeles despite never historically ever happening in the county.
FEMA addressed these concerns shortly after the NRI came out on Sunday. FEMA Deputy Associate Administrator Mike Grimm noted that while the rankings may seem counterintuitive, the degree of risk is not based solely on how often a natural disaster hits a certain area, but how much it would damage property and harm people not prepared for that kind of disaster.
“The rankings actually make sense,” natural disaster retrofitter consultant Duane Michaels explained to the Globe. “Look at LA or San Francisco. Both are near a fault line and have had bad earthquakes in the past, so they are more prepared for it. But then look at St. Louis or Memphis. They are near a big fault line inland that caused giant earthquakes in 1812, yet there are virtually no buildings around ready for such an earthquake. It’s partially why Sandy rocked New York so hard. Places like Miami and New Orleans are used to big hurricanes and have preparedness plans. They didn’t in the early 2010’s.”
“Plus, in cities, there’s a lot more real estate to hit, and that means more people being affected and more costlier damages. It’s not intuitive at first glance, but once you start factoring everything in, including density and unpreparedness, it really does make a lot of sense.”
“LA is more prepared for earthquakes, wildfires, and other natural disasters more than most, but there’s just so many people there under non-optimal conditions that the risk is still through the roof.”
FEMA officials came to a similar conclusion.
“It’s that risk perception that it won’t happen to me,” added Grimm. “Just because I haven’t seen it in my lifetime doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”
FEMA risk nationwide
According to FEMA, the riskiest places to live in in the US are Los Angeles, three areas in New York City (the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn), Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County. Riverside County was even noted by FEMA for having a higher than average wildfire risk.
Among the safest are Loudoun County, Virginia, along with suburban Boston, Long Island, and suburban Detroit.
“This new tool, based on calculations by 80 experts over six years, is about educating homeowners and renters and communities to be more resilient,” noted Grimm again. “People shouldn’t move into or out of a county because of the risk rating.”
Others noted that Californian counties would likely be surpassed in the coming years.
“Climate change is really screwing with things, especially floods,” explained Michaels. “Heat waves too. California may be bad now, but they are taking a lot of steps to address this sort of thing. States like Texas are not, and that’s where a lot of people are moving to. Increased population, increasing property values along with more hurricane threats, more floods, and worse heat waves. Texas, as well as Florida and a lot of other Southeastern states, are next. But for this one, it’s LA County on top.”
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