If disaster strikes, will New Jersey be ready?

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Should a Superstorm Sandy-like weather catastrophe strike or a bio-terror attack infect the water supply, New Jersey can be counted on to protect its citizens better than it has in the past, although its response is still below the national average, a report Wednesday said.

The 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, grades states on how prepared they are to respond to a public health emergency, based on 129 data points taken from 60 sources of information.

New Jersey is among the states “making progress and moving in the right direction,” said Professor Glen Mays from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and the index’s lead researcher. But progress is uneven.

“Being prepared for emergencies is a complex undertaking, and not a single agency can do all his work. We need an index to track the overall system,” Mays said.

New Jersey’s 6.6 score out of a possible 10 is just below the national average of 6.7, according to the report. But the Garden State’s score is considerably lower than the 7.4 statistical tie from top performers: Massachusetts, Nebraska and Washington D.C., Maryland and Rhode Island.

New Jersey has shown marked improvement in the latest assessment of each of the states’ readiness to manage health emergencies, and in one area that counts the most — community planning and engagement — Mays said.

Report: N.J. not staffed to handle a crisis

Seth McAllister/AFP/Getty ImagesA study done by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation shows that New Jersey does not have the manpower to deal with a crisis as immense as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. When public health officials were…

New Jersey lifted its rating from 3.9 in 2013 to 5.4 this year, surpassing the national average of 5.2 in this category, according to the report.

This area measures the availability and coordination between emergency first responders, public health officials and hospitals, Mays said. “Having those relationships and making sure everybody’s preparedness plan is coordinated and not fragmented, and having communications systems in place” are the “foundation” of a strong response, he said.

The index is based on data from the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association to FEMA, Homeland Security and other state and federal agencies.

  • Improved its standing in all six categories measuring preparedness for a major health emergency.
  • Beat the national average for its ability to store and deploy supplies that protect people from disease and injury, raising its score from 5.7 in 2013 to 6.9 this year.
  • Remained below the national average for identifying “where hazards start and spread” and access to high-quality medical services.

“We are seeing some promising national numbers when it comes to our nation’s ability to cope with health emergencies,” said Alonzo Plough, the foundation’s chief science officer. “Disasters like recent major hurricanes show that to take the next step in increasing our preparedness levels, we must focus on improving equity within our efforts.”