Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Montana officials say they are ready for a disaster despite a recent report that ranked the state dead last in preparedness.

Trust for America’s Health gave Montana only three out of 10 points in a state-by-state analysis of disaster readiness. The next-lowest score was five out of 10, and eight states earned nine out of 10.

“We always look at this report to see what we should be addressing,” said Jim Murphy, chief of the state’s Communicable Disease Prevention Bureau. “But I don’t think people should be worried about being ranked three out of 10.”

Murphy pointed to the state’s management of the ongoing H1N1 influenza pandemic as proof that it can adequately handle a public-health emergency.

The state Department of Public Health and Human Services has worked closely with county and tribal health departments and medical providers to dispense H1N1 information and vaccine.

“I think our response has been equal to anywhere in the country,” said Jane Smilie, head of the state Public Health and Safety Division.

The annual “Ready or Not” report aims to help states determine how prepared they are for a disease outbreak, natural disaster or other unexpected event.

But it often looks at different factors from year to year — in 2006, Montana earned eight of 10 points — and local officials do not always agree that the factors are relevant.

For instance, Montana officials were much more interested in perfecting their communication skills during the H1N1 influenza outbreak than in worrying about enacting laws to extend liability to businesses that serve in emergency situations.

“Some of these make more sense in other states than in Montana,” Murphy said.

And some of them do not align with requirements placed on the state by its funding sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Smilie said.

“They aren’t necessarily what we’re aiming at,” she said.

Rich Hamburg, deputy director of Trust for America’s Health, acknowledged that changing the measurements from year to year can make it difficult for states to track their progress.

But, he said, the report tries to look at the most current issues related to disaster preparedness.

“I wouldn’t see this as Montana is less prepared than all other states,” Hamburg said. “The state has shown in the past a sound investment in emergency preparedness.”

But it should cause Montana officials to consider where and how they are expending resources, he said.

A major concern for Montana and 26 other states is public-health funding, Hamburg said. Those states decreased funding levels for public health from 2008 to 2009.

“We need a more reliable source of funding for emergency preparedness and public health in general,” Hamburg said. “We have state and local health officials being asked to do more with less resources.”

A provision in the health care legislation being considered by Congress could stabilize public health funding, he said.

Contact Diane Cochran at or 657-1287.