Public Safety

Emergency Preparedness

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Emergency Preparedness

Emergency preparedness is being ready ahead of time for a range of disasters that might occur.  With adequate emergency preparedness, communities have the knowledge and tools they need to be ready should a disaster strike.

Why is This Important?

When emergencies happen -- events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, winter storms, disease epidemics, terrorism, chemical spills and radiation leaks -- everyone turns to the government, hoping it is ready to respond. This response is the most important component of any society's emergency preparedness program. Planning, training exercises, public awareness campaigns and quality assurance are also important aspects of emergency preparedness programs.

How is Virginia Doing?

Disaster Declarations by State.  See text for explanation.

Based on the number of disaster declarations reported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Virginia is at higher risk than most states for a disaster declaration. The Commonwealth’s 45 disaster declarations between 1953 and 2011 exceeded the national average (39). Among Virginia’s neighbors, Tennessee had the highest number (50) of disaster declarations, while North Carolina (40) and Maryland (22) were lower. Rhode Island and Wyoming each had the lowest number of disaster declarations at 9.

Virginia is one of 27 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 (up to 63 from 54 in 2005).  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.

Trust for America's Health, a national non-profit organization, gave Virginia a score of 9 out of a possible 10 in its 2010 annual report on state and national bioterrorism and public health threat preparedness. Virginia is among the top 14 states in preparedness level, along with Maryland, which also scored a 9. North Carolina scored 8 and Tennessee scored 7 out of 10.

However, in its 2011 report, Trust for America's Health expressed concern over the cuts in preparedness funding the federal government and most states have made in recent years. It cited Virginia as one of 15 states to cut such funding for three consecutive years, perhaps weakening some elements of its public health preparedness and response capabilities. The 2011 Ready or Not? report also omitted the state scoring it had provided in earlier annual assessments.

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, 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 Veterans Affairs 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 April 07, 2014
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.

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, Ready or Not? Reports:

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 remains a national leader.

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.