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Social Vulnerability


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines social vulnerability as a group of characteristics that augments the negative health and well-being impacts a community faces following exposure to an external stressor. These stressors could include infectious disease outbreaks and natural or human-caused disasters.

Context/Impact on Health

The social vulnerability index is directly tied to environmental factors and health because it helps public health and local officials identify communities that will be especially vulnerable to environmental emergencies, such as hurricanes, tornados, or toxic chemical exposures. Certain socioeconomic factors increase a populations’ vulnerability, and include poverty, rent burden, no high school diploma, older and disabled individuals, and racial and ethnic minority status. The built environment also plays a role in emergency preparedness because the quality of infrastructure and availability of emergency services can influence a community’s ability to respond to immediate hazardous events. Communities that are socially vulnerable are more likely to experience harm from environmental and human-made disasters and diseases. Identifying these communities can help improve health outcomes and promote health equity by allowing emergency response planners to devote resources to these communities to help prepare for and recover from public health emergencies. Mitigating the conditions that lead to a socially vulnerable community may prevent emotional distress, loss of property, and decrease morbidity and mortality.

Data Collection Methodology

The Social Vulnerability Index data are pulled from the CDC and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) tool. The CDC/ATSDR SVI uses 16 variables from the US census, including socioeconomic status, household characteristics, racial and ethnic minority status, among others, to determine the social vulnerability of every census tract. This index is aimed at helping officials identify communities that will need extra support during disasters. The percentile ranking in the database represents the proportion of counties that are equal to or lower in terms of social vulnerability to the county of interest.


Click here for References
  1. Social Vulnerability Data Source:  CDC/ATSDR. Social Vulnerability Index. www.atsdr. Published July 12, 2023. Accessed April 2023.
  2. CDC/ATSDR. SVI Fact Sheet. www.atsdr. Published August 9, 2023. Accessed October 18, 2023.
  3. CDC/ATSDR. CDC/ATSDR SVI Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). www.atsdr. Published October 26, 2022. Accessed October 18, 2023.
  4. CDC/ATSDR. At A Glance: CDC/ATSDR SVI. www.atsdr. Published October 26, 2022. Accessed October 18, 2023.