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Social Vulnerability and Federal Disaster Assistance in the United States

Authors: Oronde Drakes*, University of Iowa, Eric Tate, University of Iowa, Jayton Rainey, Texas A&M University, Sam Brody, Texas A&M University - Galveston
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: Social vulnerability, indicators, disaster recovery, FEMA Individual Assistance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual Track 10
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Social vulnerability theory posits that socially vulnerable populations suffer disproportionately in disasters, have greater unmet needs, and require greater external help in coping and recovery. We empirically examined the relationship between pre-event social vulnerability and unmet post-disaster needs across the coterminous US. Through quantitative analyses of social vulnerability indicators and disaster data from FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA) program, we found social vulnerability to have a weak positive relationship with disaster assistance. This relationship varied spatially, with low levels of IA associated with high social vulnerability in the lower Mississippi basin, Appalachia, the southern Atlantic coast, central Wyoming and eastern Texas. At the subprogram level, Other Needs Assistance was most closely linked with social vulnerability, while Repair and Replace was the IA subprogram least predicted by social vulnerability factors. The results suggest a need for greater recognition of social equity in granting of FEMA IA as social vulnerability conditions currently exert little impact on the level of IA received. This and the lack of a statistically significant social vulnerability contribution to Repair/Replace (by far the largest IA subprogram) suggests an opportunity where the IA program may better serve those with less resources to cope with disaster impacts. The observed patterns of spatial association suggest that IA program underperformance may be due to characteristics of these affected places. The stratification of social vulnerability influence on IA subprograms hint at the need to reevaluate how we assess social vulnerability outcomes.
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