Social Vulnerability to Hurricane Disasters: Exploring the Effect of Place as a Mediating Factor




Sanchez, Lorenzo Dean

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Research on social vulnerability to disasters has played an important role in the identification of factors that influence one’s ability to prepare for, respond to, cope with, and adapt to changing environmental conditions during the disaster life cycle. However, existing literature often fails to explore the effect of place as a significant dimension for vulnerability, and regards this as a separate consideration. This dissertation explores how social vulnerability is not a static construct over time, and considers place-based contexts as key components of the social vulnerability paradigm. Based on this approach, the main research questions for this dissertation concerns: Does social vulnerability operate differently across spatial contexts along the rural-urban continuum, how has vulnerability changed in the last 30 years, and how does vulnerability interact with place to influence disaster casualty risk outcomes differently for populations living in hurricane-prone areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coastal United States?

In order to address these questions, this dissertation will examine the following three main research aims, which: 1) seeks to identify factors relative to social vulnerability with place-based considerations, which may predispose populations to higher or lower risks to hurricane-related disasters given spatial variations of place; 2) builds upon place-based social vulnerability, and seeks to identify how dynamic the concept is, and will attempt to identify areas with significant change via increasing or decreasing social vulnerability measurements over time and by type of place; and 3) seeks to determine if a relationship exists between disaster casualty risk and place-based dimensions of social vulnerability over time and across space. These aims are examined using several data sources: Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) - National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS, 1990 – 2010), Area Health Resource Files (2015 – 2016), and the Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States (SHELDUS – 2017), which allow for an analysis of social vulnerability across time, place, and disaster-related outcomes. This dissertation has policy implications for emergency management practitioners, elected officials, public administrators, and disaster relief agencies to evaluate social vulnerability within their communities, recommendations for targeting at-risk populations with preparedness programs and policies, and provides a platform to re-evaluate traditional configurations of social vulnerability from a demographic approach to one that embraces socio-spatial and temporal considerations.


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Casualty Risk, Disaster Resiliency, Hurricane Disaster, Place, Preparedness, Social Vulnerability