Social vulnerability and short-term disaster assistance in the United States

Oronde Drakes, Eric Tate, Jayton Rainey, Samuel Brody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Short-term disaster assistance is an important component of federal disaster response in the United States, providing over $63 billion from 2007 to 2016. Though assistance programs are designed to facilitate the return to basic living conditions, ambiguity surrounds their relationship with socially vulnerable populations who are most likely to require external aid. This study explores the spatial and statistical association between short-term disaster assistance and social vulnerability across the contiguous US. Analysis using bivariate Local Indicators of Spatial Association revealed places with high levels of both assistance and social vulnerability to be clustered in the southeastern United States, as were those with low assistance and high social vulnerability. Overall, places with high social vulnerability were predominantly rural. Based on multivariate regression analysis, dollar damage was the major determinant of allocated assistance for homeowners, but was not explanatory for renters. Indicators of race were associated with lower levels of assistance to homeowners in places where assistance was otherwise high. Among renters, indicators associated with increased coping capacities were associated with greater levels of assistance in places with low allocations of assistance disbursement. Our findings indicate disaster assistance may be underserving some places with more socially vulnerable populations. We recommend that social vulnerability should be explicitly considered in the allocation of assistance to improve social equity in short-term assistance programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102010
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Building and Construction
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Safety Research
  • Geology


  • Coping capacity
  • Disaster assistance
  • FEMA Individual Assistance
  • Social vulnerability
  • Unmet needs


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