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Safest Cities For Families with Young Children


Sperling’s BestPlaces Looks at Best Safety Practices for Cities and Outlines Tips to Help Parents Reduce Preventable Accidents

NORTHBROOK, IL – News stories about tragic accidents, many that could have been prevented, seem to dominate today’s headlines. While accidents can happen anytime or anywhere, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the global safety leader, commissioned a study with Sperling’s BestPlaces to determine the cities that stand out in helping prevent needless accidents and improving the safety of their residents, especially families with young children.

The study, “Safest Cities for Families with Young Children,” evaluated the 50 largest U.S. cities on specific criteria that contribute to home, community and overall personal safety. The results showed that 10 cities lead the way in helping reduce risk of fire deaths, pedestrian accidents and other mishaps that contribute to the estimated 14 million potentially disabling, unintentional injuries that children sustain each year.

The 2010 “Safest Cities for Families with Young Children” include:

  • Boston
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Louisville, Ky.
  • Minneapolis, Minn.
  • New York
  • Portland, Ore.
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Tampa, Fla.
  • Virginia Beach, Va.

Each city was measured on 25 criteria encompassing child-focused, safety-oriented behaviors and regulatory best practices. As part of the methodology, the study filtered out cities with the highest crime rates and considered air quality, incidence of child pedestrian accidents, injuries and drowning. The study also focused on accessibility to hospitals; response time for fire and police personnel; and laws, codes and regulations that address smoking, home inspections, smoke and CO alarms, pool safety and bike helmets. The top 10 cities had the highest frequency or values in these categories.

“There is a unique set of safety considerations that goes into developing safe homes, communities and environments for raising young children, and the purpose of the study was to bring awareness to the best practices in those areas,” said Gus Schaefer, UL’s Public Safety Officer. “We hope that highlighting the importance of these safety practices will help keep more families protected.”

Though the study names only the top 10 safest cities for families with young children, UL notes that almost all 50 cities had strong safety regulations in place related to several of the criteria. The study revealed that:

  • All 50 cities have some level of local or state legislation for smoke alarms
  • 47 of the 50 cities have some level of non-smoking legislation
  • 47 of the 50 cities have local or state legislation requiring carbon monoxide alarms
  • All 50 cities require inspections after construction or remodeling
  • 39 of the 50 cities have state or local laws requiring bike helmets for children

“UL was encouraged by many of the results – it’s clear that most cities are doing great things to improve safety at home and in the community,” said Schaefer. “Just as cities are continually trying to take steps to improve safety and prevent accidents, families should do the same. Even taking a few actions can cut a family’s risk of accidents significantly and encourage safety-conscious behaviors that can last a lifetime.”

City Scorecards

Boston: With its many colleges and universities within the city and surrounding area, Boston is a center of higher education and a center for medicine. It’s no wonder then that the city has the highest number of hospitals per capita. Boston also has low child injuries and pedestrian accidents and good air quality. To protect Boston’s air quality, the Boston Air Pollution Control Commission (APCC) cooperates with local, regional, state and federal agencies to develop strategies and programs to improve air quality throughout the New England area.

Columbus, Ohio: Columbus has the lowest incidence of vehicle-related deaths and child poisonings among the top 10 cities. The city also shines in its low number of pedestrian accidents. Recently, Columbus’ commitment to safety was evident when it hosted the National Motorcycle Safety Conference, which brought together more than 300 motorcycle safety professionals, managers and instructors from across the country to discuss ideas, challenges and solutions for reducing motorcycle crashes and related injuries in Ohio and the U.S.

Louisville, Ky.: Home to horse racing’s biggest event, the Kentucky Derby, Louisville also has bragging rights to low pedestrian accident rates, quick fire response times and a high number of hospitals per capita. Louisville’s fire protection is provided by 20 independent fire departments that work together through mutual aid agreements to protect the public from the dangers of fires. In 2007, Louisville instituted Operation School Zone, which used new laser technology to target and cite school zone speeders in order to create a safer environment for children traveling to and from school.

Minneapolis, Minn.: Minneapolis may indeed be the land of 10,000 lakes, but fortunately it has a low number of pedestrian accidents, fire and burn rates. Minneapolis also emerged as the leading combatant of “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide. Minnesota’s “Carbon Monoxide Detector Law” requires that all single family homes have a carbon monoxide alarm.

New York: Famous for its heroic FDNY, New York led all cities in fire response time. The city also led the way when it came to pool safety laws, police officers per capita, fireworks regulations, and low incidences of child poisoning and drowning rates. The city boasts the largest fire department-based EMS in the country.

Portland, Ore.: Portland had a low rate of poverty among families with children, low drowning rates and low fire and burn rates among children. Portland is often heralded as one of America’s leading “green” cities, and appropriately topped the list in air quality. In 1999, the city of Portland, after recognizing the need to improve its air quality, launched “Portland Air Toxics Solutions,” a program designed to study air pollution and establish benchmarks for improving the city’s overall air quality. More than a decade later, the city’s air quality has improved and is now among the best in the country.

San Francisco: The hilliest city in the country is very level-headed when it comes to safety. San Francisco scored well in residential sprinkler laws, pool safety laws, bike helmet laws, and also had one of the lowest rates of poverty among families with children. On top of that, the state of California will implement a law in January 2011 stating that any home built after that date must install a sprinkler system. Last year, zero fire-related deaths occurred in San Francisco homes with sprinkler systems.

Seattle: The Emerald City earned a gold star in several categories, including carbon monoxide alarm laws, bike helmet laws, and fire and burn rates among children. Additionally, the city exhibited strong smoke alarm regulations, fire response times, child injury rates and high air quality. In 2003, Washington’s mandatory helmet law was extended to include Seattle. Cyclists of all ages are now required to wear a helmet while riding. In 2009, the Washington State Senate passed a bill requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in all dwelling units built or manufactured after Dec. 31, 2009.

Tampa, Fla.: Strong smoke alarm regulations and fire response times contributed to Tampa being named a top 10 city. In July 2010, following a fatal home fire in Riverview, Fla., Tampa fire fighters initiated a program that offers free smoke detectors for homeowners in the city. The firefighters began the program by going door-to-door handing out free smoke alarms, and the department continues to operate a free smoke alarm program throughout the city.

Virginia Beach, Va.: Despite being part of an original colony, this historically situated city has a high percentage of new homes, making the chances of structure-related home accidents or led-based paint less likely. Virginia Beach had low poverty rates among families with children, and low vehicle-related deaths and pedestrian accidents. As of July, all passengers in a motor vehicle who are under 18 are required to wear a seatbelt, even in the backseat.

What You Can Do

UL offers the following tips that parents can adopt around the home to help prevent accidents and provide more peace of mind as their children grow from toddlers to kindergarteners and into their teen years:

  • See what your child sees: To avoid preventable hazards, get down on your hands and knees to see what children see both inside and outside the home. Search for objects or situations that may endanger children who will be at your home. Pay attention to sharp corners, dangling cords and any objects that may encourage children to climb or be a tripping hazard.
  • Make sure furniture is stable on its own: Every day, nearly 40 children visit the emergency room with injuries after a heavy piece of furniture – like a TV – falls on them. For added security, anchor to the floor or attach all entertainment units, TV stands, bookcases, shelving and bureaus to the wall using appropriate hardware, such as brackets, screws or toggles.
  • Set your water heater to 120°F or less: To avoid preventable burns and scalds from hot water, make sure your water heater’s temperature is set below 120°F or set to “low.” Anything above that temperature can cause a child severe burns within seconds. According to national burn statistics, approximately 2.4 million burn injuries are reported every year.
  • Beware of candles: According to the National Fire Protection Association, the small flames of candles cause approximately 15,000 home fires a year. If you have young children and pets, stop using candles or always blow them out before leaving a room.
  • Electrical warning signs: If your home was built more than 50 years ago, be aware of signs that you might need to update the wiring in your home. Potential warning signs that might require an electrician to inspect include wavering TV or computer screens; flickering or dimming lights; frequent shocks from appliances, outlets or wall switches; or receptacles or plugs that are hot to the touch. If you can't touch them for more than five seconds - you may have an overload.
  • Create a fire escape plan: In addition to having a smoke alarm on every level of your home and outside each sleeping area, draw a simple floor plan of your home. On it, mark two exits from every room, including windows, and an outside family assembly point, such as a driveway or parking lot. Write “Call 911” on the escape plan and post it in a central location, such as a refrigerator door.
  • Identify your family’s “ICE” – the “in case of emergency” contact: If you have a cell phone, program your emergency contact as “ICE.” ICE is recognized by police and first responders across the nation. Also, identify a relative who doesn’t live in your home, who in an emergency situation may be in a better position than you to communicate among separated family members.

For more information on where each of the top 10 cities stood out among specific safety criteria, go to http://www.ul.com/consumers. For additional tips to improve safety in and around your home, visit www.SafetyAtHome.com.

Additionally, if interested in best practices that can make your community safer, Schaefer suggests considering Safe Communities America, a program of the National Safety Council that recognizes communities demonstrating leadership in safety promotion and injury prevention. Overseen by the World Health Organization's Collaborating Center on Community Safety Promotion, U.S. communities currently recognized with a Safe Community designation include Anchorage, Alaska; Hagerstown, Md; Madison, Wis; and Omaha, Neb. For more information, go to www.safecommunitiesamerica.org.

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About Underwriters Laboratories

UL is an independent product safety certification organization that has been testing products and writing Standards for Safety for more than a century. UL evaluates more than 19,000 types of products, components, materials and systems from more than 66,000 manufacturers each year. In total, there are more than 20 billion UL Marks appearing on products yearly worldwide. UL's global family of companies and network of service providers includes 68 laboratory, testing and certification facilities serving customers in 102 countries. For more information, visit: http://www.ul.com/newsroom.

About Sperling’s BestPlaces

Bert Sperling has been helping people find their own "Best Place" to live, work and retire for more than 20 years. His firm, Sperling's BestPlaces, puts facts in the hands of the public so they can make better decisions about best places to live, work, retire, play, or relocate. His bestselling books, Cities Ranked and Rated and Best Places to Raise Your Family, are published by John Wiley & Sons. More information about Bert and his work is available at www.bestplaces.net.