Natural Hazards

, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 823–843 | Cite as

Assessment of social vulnerability to natural disasters: a comparative study

  • D. K. Yoon
Original Paper


The purpose of this study is to examine and compare the methodologies being developed in assessing social vulnerability to natural disasters. Existing vulnerability literature shows that two methods have been used in developing social vulnerability indexes: (1) a deductive approach based on a theoretical understanding of relationships and (2) an inductive approach based on statistical relationships (Adger et al. in New indicators of vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Norwich, 2004). Two techniques were also utilized in aggregating social vulnerability indicators: (1) a deductive approach using standardization techniques such as z scores or linear scaling (Wu et al. in Clim Res 22:255–270, 2002; Chakraborty et al. in Nat Hazards Rev 6(1):23–33, 2005) and (2) an inductive approach using data-reduction techniques such as factor analysis (Clark et al. in Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 3(1):59–82, 1998; Cutter et al. Soc Sci Quart 84(2):242–261, 2003). This study empirically compares deductive and inductive index development and indicator aggregation methods in assessing social vulnerability to natural disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastal areas. The aggregated social vulnerability index is used to examine a relationship with disaster losses in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastal areas. The results show that coastal counties with more vulnerability in terms of social achieved status are positively associated with disaster damages, while variations in the development of the index using deductive and inductive measurement approaches produce different outcomes.


Social vulnerability Natural disasters Assessment methods Factor analysis Standardization 


  1. Adger WN, Brooks N, Bentham G, Agnew M, Eriksen S (2004) New indicators of vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Norwich, Report 7Google Scholar
  2. Anderson WA (2005) Bringing children into focus on the social science disaster research agenda. Int J Mass Emerg Disasters 23(3):159–175Google Scholar
  3. Azar D, Rain D (2007) Identifying population vulnerability to hydrological hazards in San Juan, Puerto Rico. GeoJournal 69(1):23–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnett J, Lambert S, Fry I (2008) The hazards of indicators: insights from the environmental vulnerability index. Ann As Am Geogr 98(1):102–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Birkmann J (2006) Measuring vulnerability to natural hazards: towards disaster resilient societies. United Nations Publications, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Bolin R, Klenow D (1983) Response of the elderly to disaster: an age-stratified analysis. Int J Aging Hum Dev 16:283–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boruff BJ, Cutter SL (2007) The environmental vulnerability of Caribbean island nations. Geogr Rev 97(1):24–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boruff BJ, Emrich C, Cutter SL (2005) Erosion hazard vulnerability of US Coastal Counties. J Coast Res 21(5):932–942CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cannon T (1994) Vulnerability analysis and the explanation of “Natural” Disasters. In: Varley A (ed) Disasters. Development and Development, John Wiley, Chichester, pp 13–30Google Scholar
  10. Chakraborty J, Montz BE, Tobin GA (2005) Population evacuation: Assessing spatial variability in geophysical risk and social vulnerability to natural hazards. Nat Hazards Rev 6(1):23–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clark G, Moser S, Ratick S, Dow K, Meyer W, Emani S, Jin W, Kasperson J, Kasperson R, Schwartz H (1998) Assessing the vulnerability of coastal communities to extreme storms: the case of Revere, MA, USA. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 3(1):59–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cox, JR, Rosenzweig C, Solecki WD, Goldberg R, Kinney PL (2007) Social vulnerability to climate change: A neighborhood analysis of the northeast US Megaregion. Technical paper prepared for the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment. Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  13. Cutter SL, Finch C (2008) Temporal and spatial changes in social vulnerability to natural hazards. PNAS 105(7):2301–2306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cutter SL, Mitchell JT, Scott MS (2000) Revealing the vulnerability of people and places: a case study of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Ann As Am Geogr 90(4):713–737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cutter SL, Boruff BJ, Shirley WL (2003) Social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Soc Sci Quart 84(2):242–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cutter SL, Burton C, Emrich C (2010) Disaster resilience indicators for benchmarking baseline conditions. J Home Secur Emerg. doi: 10.2202/1547-7355.1732 Google Scholar
  17. Dunning CM, Durden S (2011) Social vulnerability analysis methods for Corps planning. US Army Corps of EngineersGoogle Scholar
  18. Enarson E, Morrow BH (1998) The gendered terrain of disaster: through women’s eyes. Praeger, WestportGoogle Scholar
  19. Enarson E, Fothergill A, Peek L (2006) Gender and disaster: Foundations and directions. In: Quarantelli EL, Dynes R, Rodriguez H (eds) Handbook of Disaster Research. Springer, New York, pp 130–146Google Scholar
  20. Fekete A (2009) Validation of a social vulnerability index in context to river-floods in Germany. Nat Hazard Earth Syst 9:393–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fekete A, Damm M, Birkmann J (2010) Scales as a challenge for vulnerability assessment. Nat Hazards 55:729–747CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Foladare IS (1969) A clarification of “ascribed status” and “achieved status”. Sociol Quart 10(1):53–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fothergill A, Peek LA (2004) Poverty and disasters in the United States: a review of recent sociological findings. Nat Hazards 32(1):89–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fothergill A, Maestras E, Darlington J (1999) Race, ethnicity, and disasters in the United States: a review of the literature. Disasters 23(2):156–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gall M (2007) Indices of social vulnerability to natural hazards: a comparative evaluation. University of South Carolina, DissertationGoogle Scholar
  26. Haki Z, Akyurek Z, Düzgün S (2004) Assessment of Social Vulnerability Using Geographic Information Systems: Pendik, Istanbul Case Study. Paper presented at the 7th AGILE Conference on Geographic Information Science, Heraklion, CreteGoogle Scholar
  27. Hauke J, Kossowski T (2011) Comparison of values of Pearson’s and Spearman’s correlation coefficients on the same sets of data. Quaestiones Geographicae 30(2):87–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jones B, Andrey J (2007) Vulnerability index construction: methodological choices and their influences on identifying vulnerable neighborhoods. Int J Emerg Manag 4(2):269–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kar N (2009) Psychological impact of disasters on children: review of assessment and interventions. World J Pediatr 5(1):5–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Linton R (1936) The study of man. Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Long AP (2007) Poverty is the new prostitution: race, poverty, and public housing in post-Katrina New Orleans. J Am Hist 94:795–803CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mather PM, Openshaw S (1974) Multivariate methods and geographical data. Statistician 23:283–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McCarthy J, Canziani O, Leary N, Dokken D, White K (2001) Climate change 2001: impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  34. MEA (2003) Ecosystems and human well-being. A framework for Assessment. Island Press, World Resources Institute, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  35. Meyer V, Haase D, Scheuer S (2007) GIS-based Multicriteria Analysis as Decision Support in Flood Risk Management. Integrated Project FLOODsite, Milestone report T10-07-06Google Scholar
  36. Morrow BH (2008) Community Resilience: a social justice perspective. The community and regional resilience initiative research report 4Google Scholar
  37. Munro BH (2001) Statistical methods for health care research, 4th edn. JB Lippincott Co, Philadelphia, PAGoogle Scholar
  38. Myers CA, Slack T, Singlemann J (2008) Social vulnerability and migration in the wake of disaster: the case of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Popul Environ 29:271–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ngo EB (2001) When disasters and age collide: reviewing vulnerability of the elderly. Nat Hazards Rev 2(2):80–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Peacock WG, Morrow BH, Gladwin H (2000) Hurricane Andrew and the reshaping of Miami: ethnicity, gender, and the socio-political ecology of disasters. Florida International University, International Hurricane Center, Miami, FLGoogle Scholar
  41. Phillips BD, Hewett PL (2005) Home alone: disasters, mass emergencies and children in self care. J Emerg Manag 3(2):31–35Google Scholar
  42. Rygel L, O’Sullivan D, Yarnal B (2006) A method for constructing a social vulnerability index: an application to hurricane storm surges in a developed country. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 11(3):741–764CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Scott J (1975) Multivariate analysis in geography—some comments. Statistician 24(3):211–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Smith S, Tremethick MJ, Johnson P, Gorski J (2009) Disaster planning and response: considering the needs of the frail elderly. Int J Emerg Manag 6(1):1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. St. Bernard G (2007) Measuring social vulnerability in Caribbean States, Paper presented at 8th SALISES Annual Conference Crisis, Chaos and Change: Caribbean Development Challenges in the 21st Century, Trinidad and TobagoGoogle Scholar
  46. Tapsell S, McCarthy S, Faulkner H, Alexander M (2010) Social vulnerability and natural hazards. Flood Hazard Research Centre—FHRC, CapHaz-Net WP4 ReportGoogle Scholar
  47. Wood NJ, Burton CG, Cutter SL (2010) Community variations in social vulnerability to Cascadia-related tsunamis in the US Pacific Northwest. Nat Hazards 52:369–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wu SY, Yarnal B, Fisher A (2002) Vulnerability of coastal communities to sea-level rise: a case study of Cape May County, New Jersey, USA. Clim Res 22:255–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zahran S, Brody SD, Peacock WG, Vedlitz A, Grover H (2008) Social vulnerability and the natural and built environment: a model of flood casualties in Texas, 1997–2001. Disasters 32(4):537–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Emergency ManagementNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA

Personalised recommendations