Iowa scores well in ranking of health emergency preparedness

DES MOINES — A study ranks Iowa above the national average in health emergency preparedness, being ready to respond to everything from tornadoes to terrorism to a tuberculosis outbreak.

Glen Mays, director of the National Health Security Preparedness Index, says it measures 129 different areas, from the percentage of bridges in good condition to the prevalence of hazard planning in public schools. “Overall, things are going quite well for Iowa,” Mays says. “You’re right in line with the national average in terms of overall levels of health security protections and in several areas, Iowa is leading the nation, has above-average levels of health security.”

All of the categories are boiled down to a ten-point scale on which Iowa scored a 6.8 for preparedness, compared to 7.6 for the United States as a whole. The scores indicate the ability to protect the health status of residents from incidents like infectious diseases, extreme weather conditions and terrorist attacks.

In several categories, Iowa was out front nationally. “In particular, in the incident management domain, which is the ability to respond rapidly to a disaster or emergency event,” Mays says, “and also Iowa does very well in environmental occupational health, being able to monitor for hazards in the environment and in the workforce and being able to respond to them.”

Iowa scored poorly in one category, community planning and engagement. It involves the ability to build and maintain strong relationships between government agencies, community organizations and individual households. “Iowa has fewer numbers of volunteers, particularly health professionals that volunteer as part of medical reserve corps, people who agree to go out and respond to hazardous events when they occur,” Mays says. “Part of that is related to Iowa’s large rural populations and you have health workforce shortages that make it a little more challenging.”

Iowa should continue building on its strengths, Mays says, while looking for opportunities to improve in areas where there are deficits. Mays is a professor of health policy at the University of Kentucky. The National Health Security Preparedness Index program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.