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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Social Vulnerability and Hurricane Impact Modeling

Christopher Burton

Advisor:  Dr. Susan L. Cutter



Numerical hurricane loss and impact prediction models have become widely utilized as tools to determine property damages. To yield loss estimates, models often combine building stock, economic data, and vulnerability functions in an effort to relate wind and surges to expected damages. Within this framework, vulnerability refers only to damage or economic loss to physical structures. Societal factors influencing building exposure and damage are disregarded although research shows that growing populations, increased wealth, and demographic shifts in high hazard areas are partially responsible for increased loss during the past 25 years. 

This paper addresses this missing societal component in hurricane loss modeling. The following research questions are examined: 1) Can a quantified measure of social vulnerability be incorporated into numerical hurricane impact estimations?, and 2) Which indicators of social vulnerability explain spatial differences in impacts from the hazards associated with hurricanes—wind and storm surge? 

The Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) was coupled with a surface wind analysis, a storm surge inundation model, and a damage database along Mississippi's Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. All components were input into a multiple regression analyses to test the assumption that social vulnerability may be effectively incorporated with numerical hurricane impact prediction. A relationship between social parameters, hurricane winds, storm surge inundation, and impact exists, and 6 out of 8 determinants of social vulnerability are statistically significant. Thus, learning how social indicators contribute to hurricane damage provides a baseline allowing researchers to better understand why differential impacts exist across the built environment.