Date: 30 Oct 2009

Social Science Perspectives on Hazards and Vulnerability Science

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Abstract

What makes people and places vulnerable to natural hazards? What technologies and methods are required to assess this vulnerability? These questions are used to illustrate the circumstances that place people and localities at risk, and those circumstances that enhance or reduce the ability of people and places to respond to environmental threats. Vulnerability science is an emerging interdisciplinary perspective that builds on the integrated tradition of risk, hazards, and disasters research. It incorporates qualitative and quantitative approaches, local to global geography, historic to future temporal domains, and best practices. It utilizes technological sophistication and analytical capabilities, especially in the realm of the geo-spatial and computation sciences (making extensive use of GPS, GIS, remote sensing, and spatial decision support systems), and integrates these with perspectives from the natural, social, health, and engineering sciences.

Vulnerability research focuses on the intersection of natural systems, social systems, and the built environment. These three component areas intersect with the spatial social sciences to play a critical role in advancing vulnerability science through improvements in geospatial data, basic science, and application. The environment, individuals, and societies have varying levels of vulnerability that directly influence their ability to cope, rebound, and adapt to environmental threats. At present, we lack some of the basic operational understanding of the fundamental concepts of vulnerability, as well as models and methods for analyzing them. The focus on place-based applications and the differential susceptibility of populations to hazards is a key contribution of vulnerability science. Using examples derived from recent disasters, the role of the spatial social sciences in advancing vulnerability science are reviewed.