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Social vulnerability and local level assessments: a new approach for planning

José Manuel Mendes (Centre for Social Studies, Faculty of Economics, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal)
Alexandre Oliveira Tavares (Centre for Social Studies, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal)
Pedro Pinto Santos (Centre for Geographical Studies, Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal)

International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment

ISSN: 1759-5908

Article publication date: 23 December 2019

Issue publication date: 17 January 2020




The purpose of this paper is to present a new index of social vulnerability (SV), based on local level data [statistical blocks (SBs)]. This same methodology was applied before at the municipal level, which is a level of analysis that under-evaluates local spots of high SV, by one side, and generalizes the coverage of support capacity equipment and infrastructure. The geographical level of detail of the input data allows to overcome those limitations and better inform infra-municipal risk practitioners and planners.


The assessment of SV in this paper adopts an inductive approach. The research context of this conceptual and methodological proposal derived from the need to operationalize the concept of SV as a planning tool. This approach required to distinguish between the components of criticality and support capability, as their assessment provides knowledge with distinct applications in risk management. The statistical procedure is based on principal components analysis, using the SB as the unit of analysis.


Support capability acts as a counter-weight of criticality. This understanding is well illustrated in the mapping of each component and the final score of SV. The methodological approach allowed to identify the drivers of criticality and support capability in each SB, aiding decision-makers and risk practitioners in finding the vulnerability forcers that require more attention (public or private social equipment, housing policies, emergency anticipatory measures, etc.).


An original approach to SV assessments is the consideration of the components of criticality and support capability. The results allow for the definition of adapted and specific strategies of risk mitigation and civil protection measures to distinct types of risk groups and by different stakeholders and risk practitioners. By predicting the impact and the recovery capacity of communities, the results have applicability in several fields of risk governance as, for example, risk communication and involvement, social intervention (health, education and housing), emergency response, contingency planning, early warning and spatial planning.



This study was financed by Research Unit UID/GEO/00295/2013. Pedro Pinto Santos is funded by FCT–Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P. through the project with the reference CEEIND/00268/2017.


Mendes, J.M., Tavares, A.O. and Santos, P.P. (2019), "Social vulnerability and local level assessments: a new approach for planning", International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 15-43.



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