Eighteen coastal states have varying degrees of protection against hurricanes, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

In a report released on Monday, the group ranked the hurricane preparedness of 18 coastal states on the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts. The study, said to be the first of its kind, measured the states' building codes, certification and training of officials, as well as their contractor licensing requirements in determining how prepared the states were for potential natural disasters.

The IBHS said it targeted coastal states in part because of the high financial cost of storms. Eight of the 10 most expensive U.S. disasters were storms, with six of them occurring since 2000. It also noted that a large number of people live near the coasts, with 15 percent of the U.S. population inhabiting only 3 percent of the land mass in the Gulf and Atlantic areas.

Florida and Virginia had the strongest regulations. Florida was found to have a well-developed system for building codes, and also included licensing for contractors and subcontractors, as well as other building trades including plumbing, mechanical, electrical and rooftop contractors. Virginia had similar regulations, although general contractors and roofing contractors weren't required to complete continuing education.

Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had the ninth strongest regulations among the 18 states. After the hurricane, it passed state legislation with mandatory building codes, as well as plumbing and electrical codes. Licensing requirements exist for general and plumbing contractors, but not for electrical, mechanical and roofing contractors.

Mississippi had the weakest regulations, according to the study, with only seven counties enforcing wind and flood requirements from the 2003 International Residential Code. Only general contractors were required to pass an exam prior to licensing.

IBHS hopes to work with all of the states included in this report -- as well as the other jurisdictions across the country -- to improve building code regulatory systems. Strong, well enforced codes are essential to effectively strengthening homes, businesses and communities against hurricanes and many other hazards that threaten the U.S., said Julie Rochman, president and chief executive officer.