Skip to main content

Social Science Perspectives on Hazards and Vulnerability Science

Part of the International Year of Planet Earth book series (IYPE)

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.

Keywords

  • Vulnerability science
  • EM-DAT
  • SHELDUS

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-3236-2_2
  • Chapter length: 14 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   99.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-90-481-3236-2
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   129.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8

Notes

  1. 1.

    There is a difference in usage of the terms risk and hazards between the geophysical and social science community that studies disasters, hazards and risk. Rather than going into the nuances of these linguistic differences, I chose to adhere to the definitions from the social science community. From the social science viewpoint, risk is the probability of an event occurring, while hazards include the probability of an event happening as well as the impact of that event on society. In other words, natural hazards are threats to people and the things they value and arise from the interaction between human systems and the natural processes. We follow the terminology developed by Gilbert F. White and his colleagues.

References

  • Balk, D. L., U. Deichmann, G. Yetman, F. Pozzi, S. I. Hay, and A. Nelson, 2006. Determining the global population distribution: methods, applications and data. Advances in Parasitology 62: 119–156.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Barnett, J., S. Lambert, and I. Fry, 2008. The hazards of indicators: insights from the environmental vulnerability index. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 98 (1): 102–119.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Beer, T., P. Bobrowsky, P. Canuti, S. Cutter, and S. Marsh, 2004. Hazards – minimising risk, maximizing awareness. Leiden, The Netherlands: Earth Sciences for Society Foundation, International Year of Planet Earth. Online at http://yearofplanetearth.org

    Google Scholar 

  • Birkmann, J. (ed.), 2006. Measuring vulnerability to natural hazards: towards disaster resilient societies. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boruff, B. J. and S. L. Cutter, 2007. The environmental vulnerability of Caribbean island nations. Geographical Review 97 (1): 24–45.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Boruff, B. J., C. Emrich, and S. L. Cutter, 2005. Hazard vulnerability of U.S. coastal counties. Journal of Coastal Research 21 (5): 932–942.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Brunsma, D. L., D. Overfelt, and J. S. Picou, 2007. The sociology of Katrina: perspectives on a modern catastrophe. Latham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burton, C. and S. L. Cutter, 2008. Levee failures and social vulnerability in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area, California. Natural Hazards Review 9 (3): 136–149.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Burton, I., R. W. Kates, and G. F. White, 1993. The environment as hazard (2nd Edition). New York: Guildford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chakraborty, J., G. A. Tobin, and B. E. Montz, 2005. Population evacuation: assessing spatial variability in geophysical risk and social vulnerability to natural hazards. Natural Hazards Review 6 (1): 23–33.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Colten, C. E., 2005. An unnatural metropolis: wresting New Orleans from nature. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cutter, S. L., 2003. The science of vulnerability and the vulnerability of science. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 93 (1): 1–12.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cutter, S. L., B. J. Boruff, and W. L. Shirley, 2003. Social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Social Science Quarterly 84 (1): 242–261.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cutter, S. L. and C. T. Emrich, 2006. Moral hazard, social catastrophe: the changing face of vulnerability along the hurricane coasts. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 604 (1): 102–112.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Cutter, S. L. and C. Finch, 2008. Temporal and spatial changes in social vulnerability to natural hazards. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 105(7): 2301–2306.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cutter, S. L., J. T. Mitchell, and M. S. Scott, 2000. Revealing the vulnerability of people and places: a case study of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90 (4): 713–737.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Dilley, M., R. S. Chen, U. Deichmann, A. L. Lerner-Lam, M. Arnold with J. Agwe, P. Buys, O. Kjekstad, B. Lyon, G. Yetman, 2005. Natural disaster hotspots: a global risk analysis. Washington D.C.: Hazard Management Unit, World Bank.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Dobson, J. E., 2007. In harm’s way: estimating populations at risk. In National Research Council, Tools and methods for estimating populations at risk from natural disasters and complex humanitarian crises (pp. 183–191). Washington D.C.: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Enarson, E. and B. H. Morrow, 1998. The gendered terrain of disaster: through women’s eyes. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gall, M., K. A. Borden, and S. L. Cutter, 2009. When do losses count? Six fallacies of natural hazard loss data. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 90 (6): 799–809.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Haque, C. and D. Etkin, 2007. People and community as constituent parts of hazards: the significance of societal dimensions in hazards analysis. Natural Hazards 41: 271–282.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Heinz Center, 2002. Human links to coastal disasters. Washington D.C.: The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment.

    Google Scholar 

  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2008. World disasters report 2008. Available online: http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/wdr2008/index.asp?navid=09_03, Accessed 29 October 2008.

  • International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2004. Living with risk. New York and Geneva: The United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

  • International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2005. World Conference on Disaster Reduction, Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015. Available online: http://www.unisdr.org/eng/hfa/docs/Hyogo-framework-for-action-english.pdf. Accessed 30 October 2008.

  • Kates, R. W., C. E. Colten, S. Laska, and S. P. Leatherman, 2006. Reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: a research perspective. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (40): 14653–14660.

    Google Scholar 

  • King, D. and C. MacGregor, 2000. Using social indicators to measure community vulnerability to natural hazards. Australian Journal of Emergency Management 15 (3): 52–57.

    Google Scholar 

  • Laska, S. and B. H. Morrow, 2006. Social vulnerabilities and Hurricane Katrina: an unnatural disaster in New Orleans. Marine Technology Society Journal 40 (4): 16–26.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lo, C. P. 2006. Estimating population and census data. In M. K. Ridd and J. Hipple (eds.) Remote sensing of human settlements (pp. 337–378). Bethesda, MD: American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mileti, D. S., 1999. Disasters by design: a reassessment of natural hazards in the United States. Washington D.C.: Joseph Henry Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council, 1999. The impacts of natural disasters: a framework for loss estimation. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council, 2006. Facing hazards and disasters: understanding human dimensions. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council (NRC), 2007. Tools and methods for estimating populations at risk from natural disasters and complex humanitarian crises. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Brien, K., R. Leichenko, U. Kelkar, H. Venema, G. Aandahl, H. Tompkins, A. Javed, S. Bhadwal, S. Barg, L. Nygaard, J. West, 2004. Mapping vulnerability to multiple stressors: climate change and globalization in India. Global Environmental Change 14 (4): 303–313.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Pelling, M., 2003. The vulnerability of cities: natural disasters and social resilience. London and Sterling, VA: Earthscan Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polsky, C., 2004. Putting space and time in Ricardian climate change impact studies: the case of agriculture in the U.S. Great Plains. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94 (3): 549–564.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Rashed, T. and J. Weeks, 2003. Assessing vulnerability to earthquake hazrds through spatial multicriteria analysis of urban areas. International Journal of Geographic Information Science 17 (6): 547–576.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Reisner, M., 2004. A dangerous place: California’s unsettling fate. New York: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmidtlein, M. C., R. Deutsch, W. W. Piegorsch, and S. L. Cutter, 2008. A sensitivity analysis of the social vulnerability index. Risk Analysis 28 (4): 1099–1114.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Smit, B. and J. Wandel, 2006. Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability. Global Environmental Change 16 (3): 282–292.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Wood, N. J., C. G. Burton, and S. L. Cutter, 2009. Community variations in social vulnerability to Cascadia-related tsunamis in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Natural Hazards, DOI 10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1. Published online: 26 March 2009.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wood, N. J. and J. W. Good, 2004. Vulnerability of port and harbor communities to earthquake and tsunami hazards: the use of GIS in community hazard planning. Coastal Management 32 (3): 243–269.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Wu, S. Y., B. Yarnal, and A. Fisher, 2002. Vulnerability of coastal communities to sea level rise: a case study of Cape May, New Jersey, USA. Climate Research 22: 255–270.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Susan L. Cutter .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2009 Springer Science + Business Media B.V.

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Cutter, S.L. (2009). Social Science Perspectives on Hazards and Vulnerability Science. In: Beer, T. (eds) Geophysical Hazards. International Year of Planet Earth. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-3236-2_2

Download citation