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New Publication Addresses Socially Vulnerable Populations in Water Resource Planning

Published Aug. 15, 2016
New Publication Addresses Socially Vulnerable Populations in Water Resource Planning

New Publication Addresses Socially Vulnerable Populations in Water Resource Planning

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA.  Exposure to flooding and other environmental hazards often fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable people in our communities. Those who lack access to education, adequate housing, economic resources, health care, and social networks have the fewest resources to prepare for a flood and often live in the highest-risk locations.  Children, the elderly, and those with physical disabilities are also more vulnerable.

Social effects, in a water resources context, refer to how the constituents of life that influence personal and group definitions of satisfaction, well-being, and happiness, are affected by some water resources condition or proposed intervention, ” said Susan Durden, a senior economist at the U.S. Army Engineer Institute for Water Resources (IWR). 

Since social vulnerability is one of those key social effects, the USACE has developed a new primer entitled Identification and Engagement of Socially Vulnerable Populations to address vulnerable populations in evaluating potential projects, studies, or regulatory decisions.  The primer is intended to help Corps personnel and its partners understand the importance of identifying and engaging those individuals and groups who are more vulnerable to floods and other environmental hazards. It will be useful to all USACE programs and can also serve other government agency programs. 

The publication provides concrete strategies, tools, and examples of how to identify and work with vulnerable populations. In addition to providing general guidance, the primer also offers special considerations for addressing social vulnerability in the Dam and Levee Safety Programs. It also illustrates how including these vulnerable populations in decision making processes can have positive impacts on the formulation of water resource management alternatives and water resource decisions. 

One of the tools newly available for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help with the identification of vulnerable populations is the Social Vulnerability Index (SOVI). SOVI is a comparative metric that provides a snapshot of an area’s relative social vulnerability to hazard exposure and can be used for any hazard. The SOVI tool has two components: a data development tool and data analysis tool.  SOVI can be installed on network computers and users can learn to use the tool by following the accompanying user manual. The associated SOVI analysis is done by uploading the data to Corps map and performing the analysis on the Corps map platform. The user can then see all SOVI analyses that have been done by Corps' users.

The primer presents the basics on how to identify and engage socially vulnerable populations during USACE water resources studies and processes and gives a rationale for the need to focus on these populations at risk.  I am pleased to endorse its use as a resource for USACE staff to better engage our most vulnerable citizens.  By doing so USACE will better be able to reduce loss of life and property and better serve the American public. 

-Hal Cardwell, Ph.D., USACE Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise and Community of Practice.


To learn more about the primer and the interactive SOVI tool contact Seth Cohen (primer) or Susan Durden (SOVI).

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Link to download report