Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI)

The Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI), developed by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, is a publicly available tool for assessing social vulnerability. County-level socioeconomic and demographic data collected from 2006 to 2010 were used to construct the index of social vulnerability to environmental hazards for the United States.   

Identify the relative differences in social vulnerability to hazards among counties. 

SoVI graphically illustrates the geographic variation in social vulnerability at a county level. It shows where there is uneven capacity for preparedness and response, and where resources might be used most effectively to reduce the vulnerability. SoVI also is useful as an indicator in determining the differential recovery potential from natural disasters.

The index synthesizes 30 socioeconomic variables, which the research literature suggests contribute to reduction in a community’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from hazards. The data variables are used to represent the population characteristics that affect social vulnerability. For instance, the number of people older than 65 and the number of people under 5 years old were used to represent the socially vulnerable population due to age.

Population characteristics taken into account that affect vulnerability include: Socioeconomic status, Gender, Race and ethnicity, Age, Employment loss, Rural or Urban residency, Residential property (value, quality, density), Renters, Occupation, Family structure, Education, Medical Services, Social dependence, and Special-needs.

The constraints of family structure, language barriers, vehicle availability, medical disabilities, and healthcare access in the preparation for and response to disasters, have been added to the suite of SoVI vulnerability variables in the latest iteration of the tool (SoVI 2006-2010).

The SoVI© methodology and results were originally published in the following article:
Cutter, S.L., B.J. Boruff, and W.L. Shirley. 2003. “Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards.” Social Science Quarterly 84(2): 242-261.

The SoVi Index has been utilized by researchers, tool developers, and practitioners  in a number of other resources featured in the Adaptation Clearinghouse. To see this tool in action, check out the following:


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Resource Types:

  • Mapping tool
  • Tool (general)


  • Socioeconomic

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