A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Population Vulnerability Analysis, Spatial Social Science, and GIS


Population Vulnerability Analysis, Spatial Social Science, and GIS

Investigators: 

Project Details

Abstract: 

This project applied the theoretical perspective of vulnerability science and spatial social science techniques to better identify which groups within the population are most vulnerable in the event of an extreme natural disaster or terrorist or bioterrorist attack.

Primary Findings: 

The project assisted in the development of more valid metrics for comparing relative levels of vulnerability within the population taking into account location, group characteristics, and resources. Such metrics were tested in light of the uneven social impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and coastal Mississippi. The empirical identification of vulnerable populations and their incorporation into preparedness and response planning is a key outcome of this research. The project also helped support the updates of SHELDUS (Spatial Hazards & Events Database for the US) (see sheldus.org); and the improvements in the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) (see sovius.org), especially the development of a web-interface for local responders.

Methodology: 

This project applies the theoretical perspective of vulnerability science and spatial social science techniques to better identify which groups within the population are likely to be most vulnerable in the event of a terrorist or bioterrorist attack. To help achieve these goals, this research team updated the Spatial Hazards Events and Losses Data base for the United States (SHELDUS) through 2004 and developed application areas for vulnerability metrics. Aspects of vulnerability that are expected to assume importance in such analyses include age, disability, household composition (e.g., aged persons living alone, single-parent families), residential patterns, income, and poverty levels.  Key to this effort was the development of more valid metrics for comparing relative levels of vulnerability within the population, taking into account location, group characteristics and resources, and information that can be inferred from social science research on diverse populations, such as inter-group differences in coping capacity and ability to recover from extreme and traumatic events.  The project employed advanced spatial analytical methods and tools including GIS and spatial statistics. The team also used survey research, archival research, and field observations as part of the methodological approach to the project. 

Timeframe

Project Period: 
May 2005 to May 2009