A new emergency preparedness report shows Montana has made strides in recent years, but work remains to be done, particularly in health care.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual assessment of America’s day-to-day emergency readiness measures dozens of factors, including hazard planning, hospital availability, even the condition of local bridges and other infrastructure.
Overall, Montana scored 6.5 on the 10-point scale this year, slightly lower than the national average. But University of Kentucky health policy professor Glen Mays says that score obscures how the Treasure State has improved its emergency preparedness faster than the United States in recent years.
“Over the 6-year period we’ve been conducting this index, Montana has seen over a 20 percent improvement. So it’s catching up fast to other states around the country," he says.
Mays cites big gains in community planning and state incident management, as well as greater regional collaboration between hospitals and public health agencies.
But there are areas to improve.
With few physicians and specialized trauma and burn units, Montana falls short of national health care standards. Nursing homes here are also cited more frequently for lacking resources like evacuation plans and redundant power supplies.
Mays says that’s a big deal in a country that’s seeing more natural disasters, like fires, storms and disease outbreaks, as well as more community violence.
“We’ve all got to look at what we can do as a society to keep people safe and healthy despite these things happening with more frequency and intensity. We can’t prevent all these events from happening, but we can sure put in place protections to make sure we limit the harm they can do," he says.
That can be difficult, considering there’s no single organization or agency that governs emergency preparedness. Instead, it takes collaboration across local, state and federal governments, and across public and private sectors.
Preparedness measures can become invisible until there’s an emergency, then forgotten soon after. But Mays says emergency response should be considered year round.