Natural Hazards

, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 325–347 | Cite as

Social vulnerability indices: a comparative assessment using uncertainty and sensitivity analysis

Original Paper


Social vulnerability indices have emerged over the past decade as quantitative measures of the social dimensions of natural hazards vulnerability. But how reliable are the index rankings? Validation of indices with external reference data has posed a persistent challenge in large part because social vulnerability is multidimensional and not directly observable. This article applies global sensitivity analyses to internally validate the methods used in the most common social vulnerability index designs: deductive, hierarchical, and inductive. Uncertainty analysis is performed to assess the robustness of index ranks when reasonable alternative index configurations are modeled. The hierarchical design was found to be the most accurate, while the inductive model was the most precise. Sensitivity analysis is employed to understand which decisions in the vulnerability index construction process have the greatest influence on the stability of output rankings. The deductive index ranks are found to be the most sensitive to the choice of transformation method, hierarchical models to the selection of weighting scheme, and inductive indices to the indicator set and scale of analysis. Specific recommendations for each stage of index construction are provided so that the next generation of social vulnerability indices can be developed with a greater degree of transparency, robustness, and reliability.


Social vulnerability Uncertainty Sensitivity analysis Vulnerability Index Indicators 



This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. In addition to the insightful feedback provided by the three anonymous reviewers, I would like to thank Shama Perveen and Tim Frazier, who provided comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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