2023’s Safest Cities from Natural Disasters

An emergency preparedness checklist is surrounded by emergency supplies like a flashlight, batteries, and water bottles

When Mother Nature reveals her unpredictable side, which cities are the most prepared to weather the storm?

To mark September as National Preparedness Month, Gutter Gnome identified 2023’s Safest Cities from Natural Disasters.

We compared the 500 biggest U.S. cities across five categories: hazards risk, vulnerable populations, vulnerable infrastructure, response and recovery, and mobility. Natural disasters include wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods, among a total of 18 from FEMA’s National Risk Index.

Find out if your city leads or lags in natural disaster safety below. To learn how we ranked the cities, see our methodology.

Contents

Rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

Infographic showing the Safest Cities From Natural Disasters, a ranking based on Hazards Risk, Vulnerable Populations, Vulnerable Infrastructure, Response and Recovery, and Mobility
Note: For presentation purposes, not all ties may be displayed for some metrics above.

Safety Spotlight: Top 10 Cities

Check out the slideshow below for highlights on each of our top 10 cities.

Virginia map marking Richmond with a safety badge to indicate that it is one of the safest cities from natural disasters
No. 1: Richmond, Virginia | Overall Score: 53.81

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 22 lowest
Number of Zero-Energy Buildings Rank: No. 39 highest
Hospital Beds per 100,000 Residents Rank: No. 29 highest
Urgent Care Clinics per Square Mile Rank: No. 16 highest
Number of Airports Rank: No. 11 highest
Lynchburg, Virginia
No. 2: Lynchburg, Virginia | Overall Score: 53.64

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 1 lowest 
Population Density Rank: No. 67 lowest 
Share of Population Aged 5 or Younger Rank: No. 115 lowest
Share of Population With a Disability Rank: No. 106 lowest
Uninsured Rate Rank: No. 116 lowest
Roanoke, VA
No. 3: Roanoke, Virginia | Overall Score: 52.74

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 3 lowest
Population Density Rank: No. 148 lowest
Hospital Beds per 100,000 Residents Rank: No. 109 highest
EMTs per 100,000 Residents Rank: No. 4 highest
Fire Stations per Square Mile Rank: No. 70 highest
Midland, TX
No. 4: Midland, Texas | Overall Score: 51.40

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 5 lowest
Population Density Rank: No. 79 lowest 
Share of Population Aged 65+ Living Alone Rank: No. 134 lowest
Share of Mobile Homes Rank: No. 177 lowest
Number of Airports Rank: No. 33 highest
Duluth, MN
No. 5: Duluth, Minnesota  | Overall Score: 50.93

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 10 lowest
Population Density Rank: No. 28 lowest
Uninsured Rate Rank: No. 40 lowest
Number of Zero-Energy Buildings Rank: No. 68 highest
Number of Marinas Rank: No. 57 highest
Rochester, Minnesota
No. 6: Rochester, Minnesota | Overall Score: 50.54

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 47 lowest
Population Density Rank: No. 124 lowest
Uninsured Rate Rank: No. 29 lowest
Hospital Beds per 100,000 Residents Rank: No. 17 highest
EMTs per 100,000 Resients Rank: No. 2 highest
Pittsburg, PA
No. 7: Pittsburgh | Overall Score: 50.47

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 36 lowest
Share of Population Aged 5 or Younger Rank: No. 33 lowest
Hospital Beds per 100,000 Residents Rank: No. 10 highest
Fire Stations per Square Mile Rank: No. 2 highest
Hospitals per Square Mile Rank: No. 7 highest
Tyler, TX
No. 8: Tyler, Texas | Overall Score: 50.06

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 7 lowest
Population Density Rank: No. 88 lowest
Hospital Beds per 100,000 Residents Rank: No. 37 highest
Hospitals per Square Mile Rank: No. 69 highest
Number of Airports Rank: No. 81 highest
Bloomington, IN
No. 9: Bloomington, Indiana | Overall Score: 49.85

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 13 lowest
Share of Population Aged 5 or Younger Rank: No. 19 lowest
Fire Stations per Square Mile Rank: No. 45 highest
Hospitals per Square Mile Rank: No. 93 highest
Number or Marinas Rank: No. 93 highest
Boise, ID
No. 10: Boise, Idaho | Overall Score: 49.70

Natural Hazards Risk Score Rank: No. 104 lowest
Share of Population Aged 5 or Younger Rank: No. 103 lowest
Access to National Guard Stations Rank: No. 1 highest
Access to Military Reserve Units Rank: No. 42 highest
Number of Airports Rank: No. 81 highest

Key Insights

The Big Picture

Our ranking uncovered an interesting paradox: No top-ranked city excelled in all categories. Each displays a mix of strengths and vulnerabilities, highlighting the multifaceted nature of disaster preparedness. However, most of our top 25 cities have low hazard exposureexcept Boise, Idaho (No. 10), Murfreesboro, Tennessee (No. 16) and Austin (No. 20), which offset their higher Hazards Risk with strong Response and Recovery and Mobility.

The bottom 25 cities — predominantly in California — face a daunting reality: high hazard exposure (wildfires and earthquakes) combined with other widespread vulnerabilities. Remarkably, a few cities are making strides toward safety. However, it appears the majority of our worst-performing cities struggle to address the challenges posed by natural disasters

Standout Stats

Virginia Is for Preppers

  • Virginia graces the top tier of our Safest Cities from Natural Disasters ranking. Three cities from this state — Richmond (No. 1), Lynchburg (No. 2), and Roanoke (No. 3) — confidently secured their places as our top 3, underscoring Virginia’s inherent advantage: low exposure to natural hazards (between 1st and 23rd lowest in our Hazards Risk rank). 

Lynchburg’s Safe Haven

  • Lynchburg, Virginia, holds a rock-solid position with the lowest natural hazards risk score, 44.13. Interestingly, Lynchburg’s readiness for natural disasters is underwhelming at No. 131. Its intrinsic safety, however, means it doesn’t need an elaborate response and recovery blueprint. One exception to its lack of natural hazards is the threat of powerful wind storms called derechos, but they occur an average of only 4 times every 100 years.

Miamis Resilient Response

  • Miami (No. 49) brims with resources to manage natural threats (most notably hurricanes) — with top-5 scores across hospitals, fire stations, and urgent care clinics per square mile. This extensive preparedness means that, while Miami faces heightened hazardous risks (No. 490), it’s unparalleled in its capacity to respond (No. 1).

Erie-ly Good Preparedness

  • Erie, Pennsylvania (No. 29), ranks 5th worst in Vulnerable Infrastructure, with nearly 9 in 10 homes built before the 1980s. It also landed in the 32nd-worst place in Vulnerable Populations, with very high rates of people with a disability and without a car. However, the city’s 9th-strongest Response and Recovery rank showcases its proactive preparedness. This proves that, despite significant vulnerabilities, Erie knows what it’s doing to safeguard its residents.

The Big Apple’s Challenge

  • Despite strong performances in Mobility (No. 4) and Response and Recovery (No. 10), New York (No. 347 overall) faces unique challenges. It is the densest city, leading to the highest Hazards Risk (No. 500). Its high rate of residents without a car (close to 54%) contributed to its dismal Vulnerable Populations rank, No. 477. This underscores the need for NYC to lead in Response and Mobility to safeguard its inhabitants adequately. 

Carsons Silver Lining

  • Carson, California, landed at No. 485 in our ranking, making it one of the riskiest cities for natural disasters. However, it boasts a considerably less vulnerable population (No. 83). Carson has fewer elderly living alone, young children, and uninsured residents than most cities, a notable advantage to evacuation management.

Ask The Experts

Protecting our communities from nature’s wrath isn’t just about reactive measures — it’s also about building a culture of readiness and resilience.

We consulted specialists for insights on how residents and government leaders can fortify their cities against these climatic upheavals. Dive into their thoughts below:

  1. How can residents create an effective emergency evacuation plan, and what two additional proactive measures should they take to prepare for natural disasters?
  2. What items are often overlooked but crucial in a disaster preparedness kit?
  3. What are your top three tips for residents to secure their homes against natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods?
  4. Following a natural disaster, what are the top three essential actions that victims should take?
  5. What training or community outreach programs could boost public awareness and action on disaster preparedness?
Kathryn Van Tol
Instructor of Emergency Management
Dr. Eduardo Martinez
Senior Instructor, Involved in Intelligence and Security Studies
Kathryn Van Tol
Instructor of Emergency Management
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government

How can residents create an effective emergency evacuation plan, and what two additional proactive measures should they take to prepare for natural disasters?

Know to which potential threats you and your home are susceptible, and plan accordingly. Given it is hurricane season in North Carolina and that has historically caused the most damage I’ll lean into that type of prep more. Plan evacuation routes, multiple options would be great. Make sure you have a way of getting in contact with your support system to ensure everyone’s safety.

What items are often overlooked but crucial in a disaster preparedness kit?

Assemble disaster supply kits with enough essential items for each member of your family for at least 3 days. Check the batteries on everything you put in that kit when a disaster is approaching. Protect important documents and take them with you if you evacuate. Plan for your pets also; food, medicine, a leash or a carrier to keep them safe.

What are your top three tips for residents to secure their homes against natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods?

Again, know your home’s weak points. Is your home in a flood zone? Reinforce any weak points, perhaps this means adding hurricane clips to your roof joists. You should always secure loose items that may get lost or worse cause more damage. Finally, if you’re able to get insurance for disasters that you’re likely to encounter is a good option to look at.

Following a natural disaster, what are the top three essential actions that victims should take?

Get in contact with your support network. Assess damages, with photos if you’re able. There may be assistance available to you so be ready to apply for disaster assistance, through either federal, state, local or non-profit entities. If uninsured or underinsured, apply for FEMA individual disaster assistance once declared. Contact relief organizations for further help meeting immediate needs until insurance payments or federal aid arrives.

What training or community outreach programs could boost public awareness and action on disaster preparedness?

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Training may be a positive educational avenue to pursue. Adding some basic information to school curriculum is always positive, and community alert systems with inclusive and multilingual messaging are crucial. Social media can be a very positive tool if utilized correctly.

Dr. Eduardo Martinez
Senior Instructor, Involved in Intelligence and Security Studies
Angelo State University

How can residents create an effective emergency evacuation plan, and what two additional proactive measures should they take to prepare for natural disasters?

The practical side of preparing an effective emergency plan is to inform the participants of what exactly your expectations are and where to meet first in order to follow through with a plan. For example, if a hurricane is expected, an announcement of at least 96 hours of an impending threat will be made by local, state, and federal authorities.

Prior to that, residents should already know the timing, direction, and means to evacuate. Some may desire to move on their own or follow designated highway evacuation routes. By anticipating the flow of traffic and the movement of other citizens, an evacuation plan can be useful. This may require an assessment of secondary routes and local news will point out where bottlenecks may be ready to occur should contraflow be activated.

1. For other natural disasters, families should have a rally point where they can meet once the event is over, such as a twister. Knowing what to do ahead can be vital for accounting for the whereabouts of such family members. Make sure that neighbors and family members outside the event area have knowledge of your intentions and when they should expect a call once you move on — and be sure to take your phone charger.

2. Make sure you have plenty of gas ahead of the event. Also, as automated teller machines will be offline due to no electricity, plan on getting as much money as you may need to survive for two weeks.

What items are often overlooked but crucial in a disaster preparedness kit?

A flyaway container like a sturdy hard plastic box and lid is a great way to have everything located in one place. As each natural disaster is anticipated, you can be sure to include enough items to sustain you for two weeks.

This may include:

  • Money to survive on (mentioned above).
  • Medicines.
  • A first aid kit.
  • Gun and/or knife for protection or cutting things.
  • Survival gear, including water purification tablets, a shovel, waterproof matches, and water.
  • A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio should also be in the preparedness kit in order to ascertain where the event is and where mid-course corrections to your plans may be necessary.

What are your top three tips for residents to secure their homes against natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods?

1. Be sure to have your home alarm on to track movement outside your home.

2. Be sure to have sandbags, if available, to divert the flow of water in low places where it may find its way inside the house.

3. If you can afford one, get a portable generator or buy a generator to supply you with electricity until the power company can return your home to the power grid.

Following a natural disaster, what are the top three essential actions that victims should take?

1. Ensure that family and neighbors are safe and gather information on safety issues such as structural damage, downed wires, or breaks in natural gas lines that may be in contact with nearby fires.

2. Look to see who in your area needs assistance, including first aid.

3. Be sure to have access to bottled water and non-perishable food to survive on if gas or electricity is cut off. However, having a camping stove would be of major benefit during this time.

What training or community outreach programs could boost public awareness and action on disaster preparedness?

The American Red Cross can be helpful to assist in training citizens on how to prepare for potential threats. By knowing how citizens can assist their neighbors, the American Red Cross can meet expectations on how to teach first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR, and planning for natural disasters.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency supports the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program which is designed to train and educate volunteers in emergency preparedness. The fields of training are tailored for those expected hazards. CERT training includes basic disaster response skills, such as safety, light search and rescue, and team development.

Expert bio: Dr. Eduardo Martinez is a Senior Instructor at Angelo State University involved in Intelligence and Security Studies. Prior to this, he was a Crisis Manager for the Latin America and Caribbean Bureau in the Agency for International Development. Following that, he served in the US Navy for 30 years reaching the rank of Captain. During that time, he served four Commanding Officer tours and was a Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer where he participated in relief efforts involving tornadoes, and Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and Gustav. In 2010, he was the Navy’s representative as a Liaison Officer for Fleet Forces Command at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Dr. Martinez still contributes articles on transportation security and legal aspects of homeland security.

Behind the Ranking

First, we determined the factors (metrics) that are most relevant to rank the Safest Cities from Natural Disasters. We then assigned a weight to each factor based on its importance and grouped those factors into five categories: Hazards Risk, Vulnerable Populations, Vulnerable Infrastructure, Response and Recovery, and Mobility. The categories, factors, and their weights are listed in the table below.

For each of the 500 biggest U.S. cities, we then gathered data on each factor from the sources listed below the table. 

Finally, we calculated scores (out of 100 points) for each city to determine its rank in each factor, each category, and overall. A city’s Overall Score is the average of its scores across all factors and categories. The highest Overall Score ranked “Safest” (No. 1) and the lowest “Riskiest” (No. 500). Note: The “Riskiest” among individual factors may not be No. 500 due to ties.

Sources: American Hospital Directory, American Red Cross, ArcGIS Online, County Health Rankings, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Health Resources & Services Administration, Marinas.com, New Buildings Institute, U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. National Guard, World Port Source, and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Final Thoughts: Navigating to Safety

Every September, the U.S. observes National Preparedness Month to remind Americans about the importance of emergency readiness. The goal? To drive home the critical message that readiness isn’t just a reactive measure — it’s also a proactive responsibility.

While natural disasters are unpredictable, they don’t have to catch us off guard. Awareness and preparation can lessen the effects of disasters, ensuring your community’s safety when the storm hits.

Here are additional measures you can take to strengthen your home’s defenses against nature’s forces:

  • Review your insurance policy to ensure you have ample coverage, particularly for the types of disasters common in your region. 
  • Secure or remove major appliances, like lawn mowers, grills, and air conditioning units, from the outdoors.
  • Shut off water and gas valves if you plan to evacuate and electrical valves when there’s a flooding risk.

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New gutters, new gutter guards, or just crews who’ll regularly clean out your gutters — we connect you to the best local pros to get the job done quickly.

Media Resources

Main Photo Credit: fstop123 / Canva Pro / Canva License

Maria Isabela Reis

Maria Isabela Reis, a creative writer, Ph.D. candidate, and dog parent, understands the importance of well-maintained gutters. However, just as her writing takes a grounded approach, she prefers to keep her feet firmly on the ground and leave gutter maintenance to the professionals.

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