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Safety and Emergencies for Expats in the United States Of America

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013


The USA is generally a safe country. There are several natural phenomena that may be dangerous, notably hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. Hurricanes, more properly called tropical cyclones, are strongest in the southern and south-eastern coastal states, but they also affect East Coast states and nearby inland areas. June to November is the main hurricane season. It is important to keep abreast of the hurricane situation. To help do this you can familiarise yourself with the National Hurricane Center website:


Earthquakes can occur in many parts of the country,  but predominate in areas from the Rocky Mountains westwards, especially California. Alaska and Hawaii are also prone. Though normally minor, earthquakes can have a devastating effect. There is useful advice about how to deal with earthquakes on this website:


On average, there are 800 tornadoes reported every year in the US. Usually occurring in spring and summer, they are most common in the Midwest, South central states and Florida. You can find some advice on what to do in the event of a tornado here:


In the arid South-western states, scrubland and forest fires are another hazard. They are most common between March and November.

Despite the perceived danger, the threat from terrorism is moderate. There are many other countries in the world where terrorist incidents are more frequent. Nevertheless it is of course prudent to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

Similarly, despite the fears of many locals, the USA’s crime rate is lower than the world average – it is also falling. Rates of violent crime and homicide, though higher than other Western countries (particularly gun homicide), are still lower than those of many other countries. Walking the streets during the day is safe in most areas of the country. High crime areas should be avoided whenever possible. This is particularly true for areas near the Mexican border.

Petty crime is a problem in the USA as it is everywhere. You are most likely to be pick-pocketed or fall victim to other forms of theft in crowded areas and on public transport. Theft prevention is about being aware of what is going on around you and keeping your belongings safe at all times. You can help reduce the chances of theft by keeping items such as mobile phones and laptops out of sight as much as possible.

The USA, though generally safe for women, has a moderately high rate of rape and sexual assault in some areas.  It is therefore important to be careful to avoid situations where you are vulnerable. If drinking in a public place, make sure you know where your friends are at all times. Also, make sure at all times that there is someone in your group who has an eye on your drinks. Don’t accept a drink from a stranger unless it remains in clear view.


The emergency number that can be used throughout the USA is 911. This is the number that should be used for the police, ambulance and fire, and coastguard emergencies. Dialling this number puts you through to an operator who transfers the call accordingly. The emergency call-taker will then ask you questions to establish the nature of the emergency. If you have difficulties learning English, you should learn some essential phrases so the emergency services can help you.

The above emergency numbers are only for life or property-threatening situations that need immediate attention. In most major US cities, for a non-emergency that requires attention, you can dial 311. Examples of its use are complaints about noise pollution and potholes in the road. In addition, if you dial 112, the International Emergency Number, from a GSM mobile phone, your call should be redirected to the 911 emergency service.



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