Study: Kansas average in preparedness for natural disaster, health crisis

A southeast Wichita neighborhood was left with shredded trees and flattened homes after a tornado passed through on April 26, 1991.
A southeast Wichita neighborhood was left with shredded trees and flattened homes after a tornado passed through on April 26, 1991. The Wichita Eagle

Tornado season has arrived, and earthquakes and wildfires are already underway this year.

But Kansas’ ability to respond to and recover from natural disasters and large-scale emergencies doesn’t look overwhelmingly great.

Kansas scored exactly average for health emergency preparedness in a study released Monday evening.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky created the National Health Security Preparedness Index, which was published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“If you don’t have ways to detect things quickly and respond to them, bad things can happen,” said Glen Mays, author of the study and a professor at the University of Kentucky.

A palpable example: Flint, Mich.

The study clumped emergency response factors into six categories, scored states for each and averaged the scores for an overall grade.

Kansas scored close to the national average for each of the six categories.

And the state’s overall score is the exact national average – 6.7 out of 10.

Mays said Kansas had notably improved its score from 2013 to 2015 – up 7.5 percent, about double the national improvement rate.

Dan Pugh, emergency manager for Sedgwick County, said the state frequently falls around the national average on metrics.

“Our state is incredibly rural but has pockets of urban areas,” he said “It makes sense that we would fall in the middle there.”

Findings from study

▪ Kansas received its worst score for access to high-quality medical services during and after emergencies. Part of that score measures the percent of the population that lives within 50 miles of a trauma center.

“That’s important in the event of a natural disaster – the supply and distribution of health care workers” Mays said.

Pugh said he recognizes access to health care does raise concern in rural areas.

“It’s a matter of prioritizing and trying to do the best we can with the amount of resources we have,” he said.

Pugh said the Major Emergency Response Group formed after the 1991 Andover tornado to better coordinate EMS responses, so patients are more equally spread among hospitals and don’t overwhelm one system.

▪ Nationwide, states received high scores for decision-making plans about how to spend time and money.

Kansas scored slightly below average in that area but still received its highest score of the six categories.

▪ The study highlighted water safety, secure food supplies and environmental contaminant tests as a national area in need of improvement. Kansas scored slightly above average in that area.

▪ Mays said Kansas and the country as a whole need to improve collaboration among government agencies, community organizations and residents.

Kansas scored average for the metric, an improvement from its 2013 below-average score.

“That’s an area that Kansas, like other states around the country, have considerable room for improvement,” Mays said.

He used school fire drills as an example of how the community should approach emergency response plans – with clear communication and practice.

“It doesn’t take a lot of money, or even a lot of time, to make sure plans are well coordinated across the area and make sure everyone knows what the plan is,” Mays said.

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

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