Everywhere has disasters, but not every disaster can happen everywhere. While fires are universal and illness can spread anywhere humans interact, many disasters are more geographically constrained. Different disasters require different types of preparation, so the first step in preparing is understanding your local hazards.
Hurricanes, form over warmer oceans and quickly fall apart as they head inland. While primarily a problem on the east coast of the United States, a rare typhoon makes landfall in the west. Blizzards are similarly confined, only burying the northern states in snow (although lack of familiarity and infrastructure can make even a light dusting catastrophic in the southern states).
Earthquakes mostly happen along tectonic boundaries, the places where the rigid plates that make up the surface of our planet come together, pull apart, or slide past each other. Places where the plates slide past each other — transform boundaries like the famous San Andreas Fault in California — have shallow earthquakes relatively frequently with shaking localized to a city. Places where the plates come together—convergent boundaries like the Cascadia Subduction Zone in the Pacific Northwest—have deep earthquakes less frequently, but create severe shaking over a wide region that could impact multiple states.
Even places that were almost tectonic boundaries can spawn earthquakes. The New Madrid Seismic Zone in the Mississippi Valley marks a rift where the continental plate once almost pulled apart.
The rifting stopped before tearing the plate and forming a new tectonic boundary, but it marks a weak point that can produce an earthquake.
But earthquakes can happen far from tectonic boundaries, too. Hawaii is is one of the furthest places from a tectonic boundary, but movement of magma within its volcanoes can send shivers through the islands.
Modern mining practices can also trigger earthquakes, most notably in Oklahoma where fracking—injecting liquid to fracture rock—has led to a dramatic increase in seismic activity.
Floods are even more tricky. It’s easy to think of floods as only a coastal problem when storm surges drives water inland, or sea level rise slowly encroaches by a few inches a year. But the fertile flat lands adjacent to meandering rivers are actually called “floodplains” because they’re built up by sediments deposited by flooding rivers. Heavy rainfalls can cause localized flooding; this can be particularly dangerous in deserts where ravines abruptly transform into raging rivers.
Check with your city government, state geological survey, and the United States Geological Survey for information on what types of disasters are most likely in your region.