BELFOR Disaster Readiness Index: Top 50 Cities Prepared For Natural Disasters
February 2018

BELFOR's Disaster Readiness Index: The Top 50 U.S. Cities Safest From Natural Disasters

Despite our best efforts to protect ourselves and our property, natural disasters can occur at any time - potentially causing devastating effects and unprecedented consequences like those seen in recent events.

Whether it’s the aftermath of a hurricane, tornado or forest fire, as the world’s largest disaster recovery company, our greatest concern is for people’s safety. While we can’t always predict natural disasters, each area of our country has its own unique set of circumstances. From environment, to resources, to administration, it is part of our duty as a company to get to know every inch of the country, so we know how best to serve it.

So, to continue building our understanding, we produced the BELFOR Disaster Readiness Index to find out which U.S. cities are at the lowest risk for experiencing natural disasters. We did this by looking at three factors for each city: Natural Hazard Risk Score1, Emergency Services Score2 and Emergency Preparedness Score3 – and then combined all three factors to give an overall score for our top 50. See our full methodology and source material below.

After crunching all the numbers, the city to come out on top is: Warren, MI. The city, which has a population of over 134,000, combines a low overall Natural Hazard Risk Score with very strong scores in our other rankings to beat Seattle, WA (2nd) and Riverside, CA (3rd) to the top spot. Michigan’s third biggest city has generally avoided natural hazards historically, but did suffer the effects of severe flooding in 2014. Fortunately, the city saw a comprehensive response in large part thanks to the swift organization of officials, first respondents, and the community.

Like its bigger brother city, Detroit, Warren is famous for its links to the automotive industry, with major automobile manufacturers providing jobs for thousands in the city. What you may not know is the city also has one of the highest concentration of emergency services personnel in the country. As a result, the city earned a particularly strong Emergency Services Score, with 256 police officers per 10,000 citizens, (compared to the national average of 80), 115 firefighters (43 on average) and 99 paramedics (30 on average) per 10,000 citizens.* With so many emergency services personnel on the ground, the city is in a great position to deal with emergency situations as they happen.

The city’s home state of Michigan also ranked among the lowest for ‘FEMA Disaster Relief Fund: Funding Requirements 2014-2019’, meaning a good score for Emergency Preparedness. The state was only awarded $19 million in disaster relief funding from 2014-2019, compared to the $37 billion in aid given to Louisiana (largely because of Hurricane Katrina). In the aftermath of 2014’s floods, the city might have needed more federal support if it wasn’t for the work of emergency services and active not-for-profit organizations.

Disaster relief funding is the money allocated by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for states to deal with the aftermath of natural disasters. Historically low levels of funding indicates the state has a low number of natural disasters, and it also gives an indication of how well each state’s administration is prepared for such disasters when they happen.

Seattle, in second, stays largely free from natural hazards because it has some of the country’s most temperate weather conditions, despite its reputation for rain. The city of Riverside in California, not far from the bright lights of Hollywood, finishes off the top three, with a low risk of natural disasters helped by a dry climate, and one of the country’s highest concentrations of police officers.

All of the cities in our Disaster Readiness Index combine favorable natural conditions, above average emergency service provisions, and historically low federal disaster relief funding to ensure they make the top 50. However, it is worth noting that just because a city makes the top 50, that doesn’t mean the city has never or will never experience a natural disaster. In fact, some of our top cities have experienced significant natural disasters in recent years, but still make the list because of their preparedness and emergency services.

We may never be able to fully predict the severity of disasters or the scale of damage they cause but, as a company and as a country, we’ll continue to work towards making every city in America as resilient as possible, by helping them prepare for and bounce back from extreme weather events.

* Numbers are based on data for the Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills metropolitan division, of which Warren is the largest city by population. 

Top 50

  1. Warren, MI
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. Riverside, CA
  4. Minneapolis, MN
  5. Pittsburgh, PA
  6. San Francisco, CA
  7. Allentown, PA
  8. Salt Lake City, UT
  9. Cleveland, OH
  10. Charleston, WV
  11. Tacoma, WA
  12. New Haven, CT
  13. Rochester, MN
  14. Bridgeport, CT
  15. Salem, OR
  16. Oakland, CA
  17. Eugene, OR
  18. Green Bay, WI
  19. Spokane, WA
  20. Sacramento, CA
  21. Detroit, MI
  22. Portland, OR
  23. Akron, OH
  24. Visalia, CA
  25. Salinas, CA
  26. Provo, UT
  27. Pueblo, CO
  28. Santa Rosa, CA
  29. Stockton, CA
  30. Vallejo, CA
  31. Reno, NV
  32. Modesto, CA
  33. Rochester, NY
  34. Billings, MT
  35. Oxnard, CA
  36. Bakersfield, CA
  37. Las Cruces, NM
  38. Columbus, OH
  39. Colorado Springs, CO
  40. Grand Rapids, MI
  41. Jackson, MI
  42. Lansing, MI
  43. Boulder, CO
  44. Phoenix, AZ
  45. Milwaukee, WI
  46. Fresno, CA
  47. Las Vegas, NV
  48. San Jose, CA
  49. Topeka, KS
  50. Tucson, AZ


1. Natural Hazard Risk Score

Using Sperling’s Safest Places from Natural Disasters as a guide, we filtered the results to show only cities with an above average score. These scores were then standardized to keep them in proportion to other rankings. The Natural Hazard Risk Score was given a weighting of 0.5 in order to emphasize the data’s importance to each city’s overall score.

Sources used: Sperling’s Safest Places from Natural Disasters

2. Emergency Services Score

To find out the level of emergency services availability in each city, we analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on overall employment numbers in each profession. This was combined with 2016 Census population estimates to produce a figure per 10,000 citizens. This gave us a clearer indication of the emergency services provision available for citizens – specifically in case of a natural disaster. The personnel per 10,000 citizens numbers were then given a standardized score to keep them in proportion to other rankings. The Emergency Services Score was given a weighting of 0.3.

Sources used: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census.Gov

3. Emergency Funding Score

To find our emergency funding score, we analyzed data from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) on their Disaster Relief Fund: Funding Requirements 2014-2019. This report is a record of all current and future (to 2019) funding allocated for each state for ‘disaster relief’. It also gives an indication of both the historic likelihood of natural disasters, as well as the preparedness of each state to deal with them without federal aid. The scale of funding for each state was then standardized keep them in proportion to other rankings. The Emergency Funding Score was given a weighting of 0.2.

Sources used: FEMA (Emergency Disaster Relief Funding Report 2014-2019)