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Who is vulnerable and who is resilient to coastal flooding? Lessons from Hurricane Sandy in New York City


Social vulnerability and resilience indices identify populations who are at risk from hazards in order to guide policy to build resilience. This study investigates which of the indicators that commonly comprise the indices reflect vulnerability and resilience to coastal flooding in urban areas based on primary data that document the impacts of and recovery from Hurricane Sandy in New York City. The study constructs measures of vulnerability and resilience that are independent of proposed indicators and uses regression analysis to investigate which indicators influence these measures. The analysis finds that (1) middle- and low-income homeowners are less financially resilient than are poorer renters. The recovery cost middle- to low-income homeowners 2.4 times their annual per capita incomes, while renters paid out about half of their per capita incomes. Resilience increases with income but conditional on ownership of assets that are at risk. (2) Disabled and/or chronically ill residents are more vulnerable and less resilient by many outcome measures. (3) Non-white households experience longer disruptions of access to food. (4) Information, hazard-specific capacities of community groups, and pre-hazard access to services such as food and health care are important indicators of vulnerability and resilience. (5) The evidence that other commonly proposed indicators are correlated with independent measures of vulnerability and resilience to flooding is weak. The study yields hypotheses for further research on how relevant indicators differ across hazards and contexts.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. The sample size required to represent residents of high-rise housing exceeded the available resources.

  2. Panel B of Table 2 reports the duration of each recovery process.

  3. Nvivo software is widely used to organize and analyze qualitative data. See for example “Introduction to using Nvivo” at

  4. The nine indicators are listed in the first 6 rows of Table 1, considering the two variables that identify the presence of children and the two education variables as one indicator each.

  5. We do not have data on amounts of savings, only percentage by which savings changed from the eve of Hurricane Sandy to the survey as reported by respondents.

  6. An important component of financial resilience, which remains for future research, is the change in value of homes in these increasingly flood-prone areas.

  7. Average annual premium for a National Flood Insurance Program policy for homeowners who reside in the zone that has a 1% annual probability of flooding was $1547 on the eve of Sandy, while it was $506 outside the flood zone (Dixon et al. 2013). Few renters carry flood insurance, which covers only belongings and has a much lower premium.

  8. See also coefficient on home ownership in regressions in columns 6 and 7 of Table 6.

  9. See columns 3, 8, 9, and 10.

  10. This result may be consistent with Flores et al. (2020), though they analyze the effect of ethnicity on “unmet needs,” which are broader than disrupted access to food.

  11. This indicator is not prominent in the literature, perhaps partly because of lack of data (Cutter 2016).

  12. Build It Back, a program organized by the city of NY to rebuild homes, reached few people at survey time. Few survey respondents received offers to buy out their homes. Respondents described the NYC buyout program in Rockaway as problematic. The NY Governor’s Office for Storm Recovery New York Rising Buyout Program was a very effective effort that bought the homes of fewer than 500 residents in Staten Island neighborhoods of Oakwood Beach, Ocean Breeze, and Graham Beach (McGhee 2017).


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The author is grateful to Jacob C. Abramowitz who created the map for Fig. 1. The author thanks Cynthia Rosenzweig for extensive comments. She thanks Lisa Dillon, David Major, Gigi Owen, and Elliott Sclar for helpful comments. Paul Chakalian, Cristina Coirolo, Xiangcheng Gao, Simon Jarcho, Manishka de Mel, Yi Wu, and Shudan Zheng provided excellent research assistance. The author alone is responsible for remaining errors.


The research was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal and Ocean Climate Applications grant NA12OAR4310107 “Building resilience to storm surges and sea level rise: A comparative study of coastal zones in New York City and Boston”; subaward from a NOAA Coastal Resilience Networks grant to the Trust for Public Land “Climate Resilient Cities Pilot Project: New York City. Green Infrastructure and Coastal Protection for Staten Island and Jamaica Bay;” NOAA Climate Program Office Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program grant NA15OAR4310147 that funds the Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast; and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Interdisciplinary Research in Earth Science grant NNX14AD48G “Vulnerability of the U.S. Atlantic coast to hazards associated with extreme winter storms.”

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Correspondence to Malgosia Madajewicz.

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Madajewicz, M. Who is vulnerable and who is resilient to coastal flooding? Lessons from Hurricane Sandy in New York City. Climatic Change 163, 2029–2053 (2020).

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  • Social vulnerability
  • Resilience
  • Indicators
  • Extreme events
  • Hazards
  • Coastal flooding