The Social Vulnerability Index

Every community must prepare for and respond to hazardous events, whether a natural disaster like a tornado or disease outbreak, or a human‐made event like a harmful chemical spill. A number of factors, including poverty, lack of access to transportation, and crowded housing may weaken a community’s ability to prevent human suffering and financial loss in the event of disaster. These factors are known as social vulnerability.

The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry at the CDC has created a tool to help emergency response planners and public health officials identify and map the communities that will most likely need support before, during, and after a hazardous event. The Socal Vulnerability Index (SVI) uses U.S. Census data to determine the social vulnerability of every Census tract. Census tracts are subdivisions of counties for which the Census collects statistical data.The SVI ranks each tract on 14 social factors, including poverty, lack of vehicle access, and crowded housing, and groups them into four related themes. The SVI can help public health officials and local planners better prepare for and respond to emergency events like hurricanes, disease outbreaks, or exposure to dangerous chemicals.

The SVI can also be used to:

  • Estimate the  amount  of  needed supplies  like  food, water, medicine, and bedding;
  • Help  decide  how many  emergency  personnel are required to assist people;
  • Identify areas in need of emergency shelters;
  • Plan  the  best  way  to  evacuate people, accounting for those who have special needs, such as people without vehicles, the elderly, or people who do not understand English well; and
  • Identify communities that will need continued support to recover following an emergency or natural disaster.

View the tool now.

2 thoughts on “The Social Vulnerability Index

  1. Barry Flanagan
    September 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Alyson – Just for the record, we are The Agency (not Association) for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a sister agency of CDC. Thank you for the Preparedness Brief, we are pleased to see it here.
    I would advise anyone interested in social vulnerability to check and map their community of interest (or any and all communities in the US) by clicking on the hyperlink shown above or at
    Again, thank you very much – Barry Flanagan

    Barry Flanagan, PhD
    Social Geographer
    Hewlett-Packard Enterprises
    CDC/ATSDR/Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
    Geospatial Research, Analysis & Services Program (GRASP)

    1. Alyson Jordan
      September 4, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Barry, thanks for your comment– I have updated the Agency’s name in the post. We do hope that our members use the SVI to inform planning for their communities.

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