Research by Conner Arvidson
*Note: Because of insufficient data in both states, Hawaii and Alaska aren't on this list.
As things in this country have gotten increasingly uncertain, LOTS of Americans—numbering in the millions—have stepped up their prep. Across our industry, there are more folks stocking up on emergency food, water, and gear than we've ever seen (and we've been around since 1987, so that's saying something).
So we asked ourselves: Of all the states in the US, which ones are the most prepared at this unique moment in history? To answer that question, we did a deep dive into our own regional purchasing data on BePrepared.com to find out which states were purchasing the most emergency supplies.
What we found was eye-opening. As we suspected, there are definitely regions of the country right now getting more prepared than others. What surprised us, however, was the fact that these states weren’t necessarily the hardest hit by COVID or civil unrest.
Based on our data, here’s a list of the five least and the five most prepared states in the US, and some quick prep tips for each. This may not be the last word on preparedness in this country, but it sheds some light on who's getting ready out there.
(Scroll to the bottom to download the emergency preparedness map with a complete list of 48 states [Alaska & Hawaii not included] and their rankings)
5 Least Prepared States in the Country
The lowest-scoring Midwestern state on our preparedness list, Illinois is far from the safest when it comes to natural disasters.
Disasters – The state has historically suffered more FEMA-declared emergencies than neighboring Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, or Kentucky. Flooding in Illinois is particularly bad. Since 1981, 99 of 102 of the state’s counties have been declared major disaster areas by the president.
Prep Steps – There are lots of steps you can take to protect your home against flooding — from relatively simple things like sealing cracks and entrances, to expensive projects like digging French drains and installing water-proofing membranes or flood walls.
Ah, the Bay State. Home of Boston, baked beans, and nasty, nasty blizzards.
Disasters – Though they may not be the most prolific emergency stockpilers, Massachusettsans have plenty of reasons to get prepared. Among other disasters, the state is home to massive blizzards. Just in the last few years, Massachusetts has been walloped by winter storms with winds in excess of 58 mph that left up to 36 inches of snow.
The state was actually hit by one of the 10 worst blizzards in US history—dumping 40 to 50 inches of snow.
Prep Steps – In cold-weather disasters where storms and ice can knock out power, staying warm is key. Some of the more obvious steps to take against the cold are stocking extra blankets and dressing in layers. We also suggest looking into alternative sources of heat like hand and toe warmers and passive solar heating (e.g., letting the sun shine through your windows during the day). You may want to explore fuel-based heating options (alcohol, propane, etc.) but be very careful of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It's also recommended to add emergency thermal blankets to your supply. They're sturdy, compact, and stay extra warm as they reflect heat back to your body. Put away at least one for every member of your family.
3. NEW YORK
While it’s had relatively few FEMA declared disasters, most of New York state's population is vulnerable to unique disasters that other states don’t face.
Disasters – 9-11 taught us about the threat of terrorism, and New York City remains a top target. Years later, COVID has exposed the major dangers of pandemics in the densely populated city. And state-wide, New York has the third highest incidents of power outages in the US.
Prep Steps – When the power goes out, most folks first concern is keeping the lights on and the temperature regulated. One thing many people may not realize is that blackouts can affect your water supply, too. If you’re in a single-family home, know that municipal water can run out quickly while people rush to hoard water after a disaster. It happens all the time. If you live in a multi-story apartment, water will stop flowing as soon as the electricity goes out.
Storing portable water, as well as water in barrels, and even rain harvesting, are great ways to ensure you stay hydrated and sanitary during a disaster. We also recommend easy-to-carry, canned emergency water that lasts up to 30 years. It lasts longer and won't let in chemicals or sunlight like a water bottle does.
2. RHODE ISLAND
Here are some interesting facts about Rhode Island:
- It’s second to last on our list of prepared states.
- Coincidentally (or not), it’s also the second to last of all 50 states for FEMA-declared disasters.
- It’s the second-most susceptible to high-dollar disaster property damage of all states
Prep Steps – Protecting your property from disaster damage is going to look a little different for everyone, depending on where you live. In Rhode Island, where severe storms are frequent, a lot of it comes down to upkeep. Make sure to replace missing or damaged shingles, keep siding in good condition, clean your gutters, and landscape your yard to keep water flowing away from your home.
1. NEW JERSEY
It’s surprising that one of the worse-hit states during Hurricane Sandy (it took years for residents to recover) is also the least prepared on our list.
Disasters – Like most of the Northeast, New Jersey has historically been vulnerable to blizzards. However, meteorologists are now warning that hurricanes seem to be heading further North, often threatening New England rather than the mid-Atlantic coast.
Prep Steps – Just ask folks in the South: one of the most important things to have in a hurricane is up-to-date information. You’ll need to know about evacuation orders, and if you stick it out and shelter in place, know where to go for safety. To help with that, we recommend a solar powered or even hand-cranked emergency radio. These can be purchased for relatively cheap (like this one from Ready Hour). If you’re willing to invest more money, there are also radios that are auto tuned to emergency channels and can double as device chargers and flashlights.
5 Most Prepared States in the Country
Oregon is super vulnerable to flooding. Just this year Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in multiple counties from flooding, snowmelt, landslides, and erosion. Maybe that’s why it ranks so high on our list of prepared states!
Disasters – In states like Oregon, it isn’t just the flooding, but the havoc that comes along with it that can be the biggest danger. Landslides are a chronic problem there—and on the Western side of the state at least, they’re triggered by heavy rainfall, not earthquakes.
Prep Steps – Preparing for landslides looks a lot like preparing for most other emergencies. You’ll want to do things like build an emergency kit, write out (and practice) an evacuation plan, and always pay attention to local evacuation warnings.
There’s also plenty you can do before disaster hits to prevent property damage. If it’s recommended by geotechnical experts or your local city or county, you can install sandbags, retaining walls, or k-rails to protect your property against floodwaters or mud.
Residents of the treasure state are a prepared bunch. With so much open country and in many cases miles between neighbors, Montanans are used to relying on themselves to get by.
Disasters – Though not as bad (or as widely covered in the press) as they are in California, wildfires are a real problem in Montana. Most years they burn up massive portions of the state. Back in 2017, 21 large, active fires consumed nearly half a million acres. So far this year, they’ve burned 380,000 acres.
Prep Steps – While there’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent other people from starting wildfires (84% are caused by human goof ups), you can work to protect your own property. You can encase your home in materials that contain and resist fire, rather than add to it. For example, landscape with fire-resistant shrubs like currant or cotoneaster. Hardwood trees are less flammable than conifers. Roofing materials like asphalt, clay, and metal are much better for fire areas than wood shingling.
Much like their neighbors in Montana and Wyoming, Idahoans have an independent streak. As evidence of that fact, it’s one of the top homesteading destinations in the US, with over 60,000 current homesteaders. It’s also essentially tied for second on this list of most-prepared states.
Disasters – Of all the states on this list, Idaho is the most disaster prone. It has the 13th highest number of FEMA declared disasters between 2014 and 2018. Natural disasters in Idaho run the gamut: wildfires, flooding, earthquakes, and even volcanoes.
If it sounds a little scary, don’t worry: the people of Idaho are prepared! They’re way ahead of number four on this list (Montana) and virtually tied with number two (Wyoming). With the exception of our number one, you could not find a more prepared state in the US.
Prep Steps – How do you prepare for multiple types of disasters?
Stick to the fundamentals.
Regardless of where you live, most of the steps for preparedness are going to be the same. Start out by building a solid 72-hour kit and a family emergency plan. Then move up to two weeks of prep, with more food and supplies for longer-term living like water barrels and generators. From there, work your way up to a month’s supply. If you need help, we’ve written some fantastic guides on the subject:
A to Z Emergency Prep Guide
Coming in just a nose ahead of Idaho is the great state of Wyoming. How did it get this far up the list?
For starters, it’s got a vibrant culture of preparedness. In fact, a certain segment of Americans are moving to Wyoming with the specific intent of getting more prepared.
On top of that, Wyomingites put their money where their mouth is. Our data finds that they outspend residents of 49 other states when it comes to emergency food and water.
Disasters – Wyoming experiences a significant number of storms that cause all sorts of trouble, like power outages, transportation disruptions, and wildfires.
What makes the storms in Wyoming a little different are the mind-boggling number of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that occur there—an average of 290,000 each year. It’s no surprise that the state is in the top 10 of annual lighting strike deaths in the US.
Prep Steps – You may not have a whole lot of warning when severe lightning hits, so it’s important you’re prepared to act quickly. Some of the most important things you can do to stay safe include:
- Getting inside a building or hard-topped vehicle
- Avoiding showering or bathing during the storm
- Unplugging electric devices and appliances to avoid damage from a power surge
Lastly, remember the 30/30 rule:
- Go indoors if thunder strikes are occurring less than 30 seconds apart
- Stay indoors for 30 minutes after the last thunderclap you’ve heard
We’re putting an asterisk next to this final entry because our company is based in Utah, which probably helps boost sales here.
But believe us, Utah would land somewhere at the very top of this list regardless of where our headquarters was. It’s is a bona fide emergency preparation hotspot in this country, and home of the world famous “Prepper Con.”
A great deal of this might be owed to the fact that 60% of the state are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints. Leaders of the Church have a long history of preaching temporal preparedness from the pulpit, encouraging members to store away long-term food and supplies. Lots of Utahns grew up with closets and garages full of dried beans, flour, and water barrels. For them, preparation is a passion and a way of life.
Disasters – Utah, much like neighboring California, is an epicenter of earthquake activity. A recent 5.7 quake just outside Salt Lake City reminded residents that they’re in an extremely seismically active region. There are about 700 earthquakes in the state every year.
And again, like California, Utahns are a little edgy about the impending “big one,” a predicted 7.5-ish earthquake that seismologists say has a 25% chance of hitting in the next 50 years.
Prep Steps – Other than standard preparations, when preparing for earthquakes, make sure to secure heavy appliances and furniture in your home that could fall and break or cause an injury. If you can, keep heavy items on lower shelves and away from areas where you spend a lot of time, like your bed or couch. The statistical likelihood of being in one of these locations during an earthquake is pretty high.
And that’s it! Was your state on the list? Do these rankings line up with what you’ve seen as you’ve lived in or visited any of these wonderful states? Let us know in the comments below.
Click Here to Get the Emergency Preparedness Map with Complete List