Leesburg Storm Feb. 7, 2020

Although it faces less risk from natural hazards than other parts of the country, Loudoun County experiences an occasional damaging storm such as the tornado that touched down in Leesburg in February 2020.

{p class=”Component-root-0-2-152 Component-p-0-2-143”}{span}The Federal Emergency Management Agency has calculated the risk for every county in America for 18 types of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes and even tsunamis.

And of the more than 3,000 counties, Los Angeles County has the highest ranking in the National Risk Index, while Loudoun County was ranked the “safest” county.{p class=”Component-root-0-2-152 Component-p-0-2-143”}

Although it faces less risk from natural hazards than other parts of the country, Loudoun County experiences an occasional damaging storm or natural disaster such as the tornado that touched down in Leesburg last February, the derecho in 2012 and the earthquake in 2011. {p class=”Component-root-0-2-152 Component-p-0-2-143”}

The way FEMA calculates the index spotlights places long known as danger spots, like Los Angeles, but some other places highlighted run counter to what most people would think. For instance, eastern cities such as New York and Philadelphia rank far higher on the risk for tornadoes than tornado alley stalwarts Oklahoma and Kansas. {p class=”Component-root-0-2-152 Component-p-0-2-143”}

Those seeming oddities occur because FEMA’s index scores how often disasters strike, how many people and how much property are in harm’s way, how vulnerable the population is socially and how well the area is able to bounce back. And that results in a high risk assessment for big cities with lots of poor people and expensive property that are ill-prepared to be hit by once-in-a-generation disasters. {p class=”Component-root-0-2-152 Component-p-0-2-143”}

Disaster experts say people have to think about the big disaster that happens only a few times a lifetime at most, but is devastating when it hits — Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, the 2011 super outbreak of tornadoes, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or a pandemic. “We’re bad at taking seriously risks that happen only infrequently,” said David Ropeik, a retired Harvard risk communications lecturer and author of “How Risky Is It, Really?”

Something like FEMA’s new index “opens our eyes to the gaps between what we feel and what is,” Ropeik said. FEMA’s top 10 riskiest places, in addition to Los Angeles, are three counties in the New York City area — Bronx, New York County (Manhattan) and Kings County (Brooklyn) — along with Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis and Riverside and San Bernardino counties in California.

By the same measurement, Loudoun County has the lowest risk of any county, according to FEMA.

This new tool, based on calculations by 80 experts over six years, is about “educating homeowners and renters and communities to be more resilient,” FEMA’s Grimm said, adding that people shouldn’t move into or out of a county because of the risk rating.

-Times-Mirror contributed to report.

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