A Seat at the Table: Training for Whole-Community Climate Resilience Planning

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Identifying Socially Vulnerable Populations

Identifying socially vulnerable populations is about a community “summary” regarding the nature of social vulnerability (presence, general distribution, dominance, etc.) to inform the community’s resilience planning efforts.

Identifying socially vulnerable populations is not identifying specific individuals in their homes.

Children, older adults, and individuals with disabilities are more likely to be vulnerable

  • Children are considered socially vulnerable populations in part due to the negative effects of the trauma of experiencing a natural hazard event. This trauma can impair a child’s cognitive and emotional development as well as their overall mental health.
  • Older adults can face emotional trauma caused by extreme weather events.
  • Older adults may also have impaired mobility.
  • Older adults may need assistance in evacuation, especially if they are living in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • Individuals with disabilities may require assistance in evacuation for themselves and any necessary medical equipment.

Source: Gamble et al., 2016

Examples of social vulnerabilities

  • Household makeup

Knowing more about household makeup – where there are areas with high concentrations of children, seniors, single-parent households, and individuals with disabilities – will help communities focus on where additional strategies may be needed for resilience planning and implementation.

  • Race/ethnicity/language

Data regarding race, socioeconomic status, immigration status, linguistically isolated populations, and English-language proficiency can be used to estimate a population’s increased vulnerability.

Nationally, communities of color, low-income communities, immigrants, and those with limited English proficiency are more likely to live in urban areas or in flood-prone areas and therefore are more likely to be exposed and more vulnerable.

  • Visting populations

FEMA also recommends that hazard mitigation planners identify “visiting populations” as they “may be less familiar with the local environment and hazards and less prepared to protect themselves during an event” (FEMA, 2013). Tourists are also vulnerable to natural hazards as they may be unfamiliar with local public safety procedures and local facility locations and may lack a social support system in the area (Pflicke et al., 2015).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI)

CDC’s 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 15 social factors, including poverty, lack of vehicle access, and crowded housing, and groups them into four related themes. Each tract receives a separate ranking for each of the four themes, as well as an overall ranking.

CDC’s SVI databases and maps can 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
  • Identify communities that will need continued support to recover following an emergency or natural disaster

CDC Web Links

CDC SVI home website features:

  • Interactive map
  • Fact sheet
  • Data and tools download
  • Prepared county maps
  • Publications and materials

NJADAPT Platform

  • NJ Floodmapper
    NJ FloodMapper
    NJ FloodMapper

    The NJ FloodMapper tool maps the CDC data with a number of different flood hazards. CDC data that you can layer includes:

    • Social Vulnerability Index SVI (Overall)
    • SVI Socio-economic theme
    • SVI Household Composition theme
    • SVI Race / Ethnicity / Language theme
    • SVI Housing / Transportation theme
  • You can overlay these data layers with coastal hazard layers [https://www.njfloodmapper.org/datasources/] to get a better understanding of the vulnerabilities:

    • Sandy Surge Extent
    • Hurricane Surges (SLOSH) Cat 1-4
    • FEMA Flood Zones
    • Total Water Level (0-20 ft)
    • Sea Level Rise (0-10 ft.)
    • SLR Mapping Confidence (0 – 10 ft.)

    NJ FloodMapper also allows users to create themed municipal profiles. Vulnerable populations are one of the profile themes. Using the profile tool, you can create a municipal-specific table showing the SVI themed data broken down by nominal vulnerable population within the municipality, % vulnerable populations within the municipality, vulnerable populations exposed at the 2ft total water – both sum (and %), vulnerable populations exposed at the 7ft total water – both sum (and %).

    From the municipal profiles, you can also link to other vulnerable population data such as:

  • Other Resources on NJAdapt
  • Stakeholder Engagement Report: Environmental Justice Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey
    In the fall of 2013, over 70 people participated in small group discussions as part of the Sandy Climate Justice Roundtable at Rutgers University. Participants included individuals from communities of color and low-income communities, and representatives of organizations that work with these communities. Discussions focused on the difficulties faced during and after Hurricane Sandy and how they should be addressed, the identification of climate-related impacts significantly affecting these communities and how they should be addressed, and climate change mitigation. This report presents information on the organization and format of the Roundtable and on the outcomes.

    Stakeholder Engagement Report: Social Services Climate Change Preparedness in New Jersey
    The Rutgers University School of Social Work was engaged by the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance to solicit input from stakeholders in the social services sector. The goal of this outreach effort was to assess perceptions of climate change impacts and to gain insight on policy changes needed at the state and local levels in New Jersey to allow the sector to better prepare for and respond to a changing climate. This effort is part of a larger outreach process being undertaken by the Alliance to inform development of public policy recommendations that will enhance climate change preparedness in New Jersey.

    New Jersey Populations Vulnerable to Climate Change
    This video describes the demographic and geographic attributes of socially vulnerable populations in New Jersey and their relation to flooding as an environmental hazard associated with a changing climate.

    Climate Change and Flood Risk for New Jersey's Senior Citizens
    This video describes the risks faced by New Jersey's elderly population with a focus on flooding and storm surge hazards associated with a changing climate.

    Newark - East Ferry
    The East Ferry part of Newark is particularly vulnerable to flooding and other environmental impacts. This map story provides an overview of the impacts to the area from Hurricane Sandy as well as how future flood hazards could affect the neighborhood as a result of sea level rise.

    Industrial Facilities and Flood Hazards
    This report by researchers at Rutgers University identifies active industrial and commercial facilities in New Jersey that may be subject to impacts from flood hazards resulting from changing climate conditions, creating potential future exposures in communities where the facilities reside. See this story map for an overview.

NJ Register Ready Registry
NJ Register Ready Registry

NJ Register Ready Registry

NJ Register Ready allows NJ residents with disabilities or access and functional needs, as well as their families, friends, and associates, an opportunity to provide information to emergency response agencies, so emergency responders can better plan to serve them in a disaster or other emergency.

Download the NJ Register Ready (pdf)

  • Engaging Local Organizations/Sources
    Identifying local organizations (such as faith-based organizations, social service agencies, Family Success Centers, nonprofit community organizations, community development corporations, education and training centers, etc.) that serve and engage socially vulnerable populations is an important mechanism to ensure that development of the community resilience plan is comprehensively meeting the needs of local socially vulnerable populations.

    This database will help you identify local organizations that serve, engage, and represent socially vulnerable populations.

    Planning resilience teams are encouraged to reach out to local groups like these to identify more information about the nature of social vulnerability in the community. Remember, local connections are often the most knowledgeable about local needs and the most trusted sources.

    About this database:

    • This database is not exhaustive.
    • In cases of statewide “chapter” organizations, there may be regional and municipal organizations that are “more local.”
    • Resilience planning teams are encouraged to add additional organizations to this service database.


EJSCREEN is an environmental justice mapping and screening tool hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EJSCREEN provides a nationally consistent dataset for combining environmental and demographic indicators. Users choose a geographic area; the tool provides demographic and environmental information for that area. All EJSCREEN indicators are publicly available data. EJSCREEN displays this information and combines environmental and demographic indicators into EJ indexes.

CDC Environmental Public Healthacking Network

The CDC Environmental Public Health Tracking Network provides information on climate change vulnerability, including flood hazards.