Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Seth E. Spielman

Second Advisor

William R. Travis

Third Advisor

Barbara P. Buttenfield


A common challenge for environmental hazards research remains describing multiple contexts of place-based social and biophysical vulnerability in hazard events. Assessments of social vulnerability to environmental hazards typically depict populations' levels of vulnerability to a hazard of interest as part of a continuum of “most vulnerable” to “least vulnerable”. These assessments may overlook the various forms of sensitivity and adaptive capacity unique to populations in place relative to hazard exposure and impacts. This analysis explores ways in which populations in place may instead be described as differentially vulnerable to multiple forms of exposure before, during, and after a hazard event based on commonalities in their social and biophysical characteristics. I apply a novel geodemographic classification approach to examine varying impacts of Hurricane Sandy upon populations throughout New York City, Long Island, and coastal New Jersey in late 2012. I aim to consider the ways in which social and biophysical characteristics of neighborhoods (United States Census tracts) contribute to comparison and targeting of social vulnerability at the urban administrative scale. The analysis begins with development of a set of social and biophysical classifications of neighborhoods across seven variable domains: Land Cover, Housing Stock, Socioeconomic Status, Residential Tenure and Housing Costs, Family Structure and Residency, Commute/Mobility patterns, and Livelihood, each of which may be expanded to discuss a particular context of vulnerability relative to Sandy. Place-based classifications for each variable domain are generalized into a composite typology of neighborhoods throughout the case study region. Composite neighborhood types are next used to generate a final classification of urban administrative units by differentiation in their neighborhood makeup. The ways in which the resulting typologies may be used to anticipate and describe forms of social vulnerability in places of interest are then considered, both in terms of populations' exposure to different of Sandy impacts (storm surge/flooding, precipitation, wind), and to conclude, as part of an applied example of household allocation of federal assistance during the Sandy recovery phase.