People living in 10 largely rural counties in the Deep South and near the Gulf Coast are those most vulnerable to hurricanes, according to recent research by Direct Relief, a California-based non-profit organization.
Not strictly focused on where hurricanes hit land, the group looked at the relationship between the frequency and intensity of hurricanes relative to social vulnerability – with factors such as poverty, access to social services, an aging population and higher mobility problems – being taken into account.
"The research looked at the likelihood that people would be overwhelmed by an event," said Andrew Schroeder, Direct Relief's director of research and analysis. This included the likelihood of people not being able to get out of the way of the storm, which could result in injury, sickness or death.
Overall, the study looked at the communities' ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from hurricanes.
Located in Goleta, Calif., Direct Relief provides medical assistance and supplies to people affected by poverty and natural disasters across the USA and in 72 countries worldwide.
The list was created "to help us understand where we need to be positioned for hurricane season," Schroeder said. "Hurricanes aren't just natural disasters, they're social phenomena, too.
"Effective emergency response takes into account complex relationships between social factors and natural events," he added.
The study findings are based on the past 10 years of hurricanes, according to Direct Relief. They did not include impacts of tropical storms, which are not as strong as hurricanes. While not a peer-reviewed study in a journal, it is based on extensive research that was peer-reviewed, Schroeder said..
Surprisingly, the "top 10" counties are not along the coast, and many are actually well inland. This is because the people who live near the coast tend to be wealthier and are better able to prepare for the storms, Schroeder said. Inland counties in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana were areas that were most concerning.
Also, while coastal areas see major impacts from hurricanes, inland areas can also receive heavy rain that leads to flooding, high winds and tornadoes after the storm makes landfall.
Houston County was the one major metropolitan area that made the list. The sprawling metropolis of Houston has the high rates of inequality, he said. It also has a large population of elderly people, as well as immigrants, which contribute to the region's vulnerability.
The top 10 counties list mostly jibes with the three most hurricane-prone states in the country: Since 1851, the top three states for hurricane landfalls are Florida (114), Texas (63) and Louisiana (54), according to data from the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami.
And while Mississippi has only seen 16 direct hurricane hits on its coastline since 1851, many more hurricanes have affected inland portions of the state, which is the nation's poorest as rated by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The research by Direct Relief also aligns with recent efforts by scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to bring more of an understanding of social science into the spheres of meteorology and climatology.
Direct Relief leaders last week announced what they said was the world's largest hurricane preparation program of its kind, as it shipped "hurricane preparedness packs" to 63 health facilities near the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the Caribbean, Central America and the Philippines.
The packs contain more than $1 million in medical resources, and each one holds enough medical supplies to treat 100 patients for a variety of conditions, from basic trauma injuries to chronic illnesses, for a 72-hour period.
The top 10 counties most vulnerable to hurricanes: