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Identifying and Mapping Community Vulnerability

Morrow, B.H.

March 1, 1999

Disaster vulnerability is socially constructed, i.e., it arises out of the social and economic circumstances of everyday living. Most often discussed from the perspective of developing nations, this article extends the argument using American demographic trends. Examples from recent disasters, Hurricane Andrew in particular, illustrate how certain categories of people, such as the poor, the elderly, women-headed households and recent residents, are at greater risk throughout the disaster response process. Knowledge of where these groups are concentrated within communities and the general nature of their circumstances is an important step towards effective emergency management. Emergency planners, policy-makers and responding organisations are encouraged to identify and locate high-risk sectors on Community Vulnerability Maps, integrating this information into GIS systems where feasible. Effective disaster management calls for aggressively involving these neighbourhoods and groups at all levels of planning and response, as well as mitigation efforts that address the root causes of vulnerability.