Social vulnerability assessments take into account that individuals and communities have different levels of access to resources to prepare for, cope with and recover from disasters. A myriad of factors may contribute to social vulnerability including, but not limited to, gender, race, socioeconomic status, age and language.
Although literature on the importance of integrating social vulnerability analyses into hazard mitigation planning has existed for decades, many hazard mitigation plans do not explicitly acknowledge or incorporate social vulnerability into their risk assessments or mitigation actions. This is due to a number of reasons including lack of access to demographic data at neighborhood levels, the lack of social capital and visibility of vulnerable populations and lack of awareness and understanding of how to incorporate understandings of social vulnerability into hazard mitigation planning.
FEMA acknowledges the importance of social vulnerability in hazard mitigation planning and offers a number of online resources for communities that choose to conduct social vulnerability assessments as part of their hazard mitigation planning processes. These resources include guides on engaging communities in understanding social vulnerability and materials from past courses on disaster planning and policies that include sessions on vulnerability. More resources that address disaster management and social vulnerability are listed at the end of this page, as well as on the Resources page.
Beyond the Basics includes a number of examples of plans that address social vulnerability. A list of these innovative examples can be found below. Also, for easy identification throughout the website, the social vulnerability icon, as seen below, is placed next to sections of the website and examples of best practices that address social vulnerability.
Best Practices in Social Vulnerability
For more detailed descriptions of the examples, click on the jurisdiction’s name to be taken to the section of Beyond the Basics that discusses it.
- Baltimore, MD: Baltimore prioritizes vulnerable populations in some of its mitigation actions considering vulnerable population’s likelihood of being in more physically vulnerable places, their access to flood insurance and their access to appropriate warning information.
- Fairfield County, SC: Fairfield County’s plan was chosen as a best practice because it uses a social vulnerability index to identify populations particularly vulnerable to hazards.
- Grensham, OR: The plan discusses the ways in which low income people, ethnic minorities and elderly persons are more vulnerable to natural hazards especially because they tend to occupy lower quality housing.
- Hartford, VT: Hartford’s plan assessed the number of persons who may be particularly vulnerable to hazards such as senior citizens living in affordable housing, persons living in mobile homes and persons living in shelters.
- King County, WA: This plan included a table with the percentages of identified vulnerable population groups in the state.
- Linn County, IO: This plan was chosen as a best practice because it has implemented an emergency assistance registry.
- Louisville, KY: Louisville was identified as a best practice because its hazard mitigation plan not only identified potentially vulnerable populations but it also mapped their population densities over the planning area.
- Tulsa, OK: Tulsa was chosen as a best practice because it explicitly considers socially vulnerable populations in its emergency response planning process.