states, ranging from slight damage through immediate total failure, to buildings and infrastructure. The construction of most buildings is governed by building codes intended to protect the life safety of building occupants from the dead load of the building material themselves and the live load of the occupants and furnishings, but they do not necessarily provide protection from extreme wind, seismic, or hydrostatic loads. Nor do they provide an impermeable barrier to the infiltration of toxic air pollutants. Adopting hazard-related building codes for the purpose of providing protection in the event of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other types of disaster is not just a technological matter. It is a complex process involving a number of significant social, economic and political issues. Social scientists in the hazards and disaster field that study such issues are in a position to provide guidance to policy makers and practitioners who make decisions about how to protect life and property in at-risk communities.
Social vulnerability can be defined by the probability of identifiable persons or groups lacking the “capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of a … hazard” (Blakie et al., 1994). Vulnerable population segments might (1) have greater rates of hazard zone occupancy; (2) live and work in less hazard-resistant structures within those zones; (3) have lower rates of pre-impact interventions (hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness, and recovery preparedness); or (4) have lower rates of post-impact emergency and disaster recovery responses. Thus, these population segments are more likely to experience casualties, property damage, psychological impacts, demographic impacts, economic impacts, or political impacts—as direct, indirect, or informational effects.
It is important to recognize the difference between social vulnerability as a construct and demographic indicators of social vulnerability. The latter are characteristics of individuals and households that are associated with social vulnerability. These characteristics, which include gender, age, education, profession, income, ethnicity, and number of dependents, are associated with the above four components of hazard vulnerability. The broad factors (or driving forces) that contribute to social vulnerability include a lack of access to resources, limited access to political power and representation (Mustafa, 2002), certain beliefs and customs, demographic characteristics, the nature of the built environment, infrastructure (lifelines), and urbanization (Watts and Bohle, 1993; Heinz Center, 2002; Bankoff, 2004). Social science research contributions, including those made by NEHRP–