Distinguished Professor Susan Cutter, University of South Carolina

Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Department of Geography

University of South Carolina, Columbia SC USA


Vulnerability and Resilience Science: Concepts, Tools, and Practice

 This presentation provides an overview of two important concepts in natural hazards science—social vulnerability and community resilience.  Conceptually, vulnerability and resilience are related, but they are not the opposite extensions of one another.  Instead they are driven by different questions:  1) what circumstances create the social burdens of risk and how do these affect the distribution of risks and losses (e.g. vulnerability); and 2) what enhances or reduces the ability of communities to prepare for, respond to, recover from, successfully adapt to, or anticipate hazard threats, and how does this vary geographically (resilience).  In order to provide the scientific basis for disaster risk reduction policies and practices, measurement schemes for social vulnerability and community resilience are required. This presentation reviews an existing tool for measuring social vulnerability, the Social Vulnerability Index or SoVI®, which is widely used in the USA in both hazard mitigation planning and disaster recovery. It describes its development, implementation in the USA, and replications in other countries.  Emerging metrics for monitoring community resilience are also described, beginning with the Baseline Resilience Indicators for Communities (or BRIC) Index. This index establishes the baseline conditions, attributes, and assets in communities that exist that can then be used as the standard by which to assess the effectiveness of policy or practice interventions to enhance community resilience.  The translation of these two tools into practical use by emergency managers is illustrated using recent USA disasters.



Dr. Susan Cutter is a Carolina Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University of South Carolina where she directs the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute.  She received her B.A. from California State University, East Bay and her M.A. and Ph.D. (1976) from the University of Chicago. She is a geographer with primary research interests are in the area of disaster vulnerability/resilience science and its measurement.  She has authored or edited fourteen books, the most recent published by Cambridge University Press, Hurricane Katrina and the Forgotten Coast of Mississippi, more than 150 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.  Dr. Cutter has mentored more than 50 masters and doctoral students.

Dr. Cutter has led field teams to study long term recovery from Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Sandy (2012), the October 2015 South Carolina floods, and Hurricane Matthew (2016).  She has provided expert testimony to Congress on hazards and vulnerability, was a member of the US Army Corps of Engineers IPET team evaluating the social impacts of the New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Protection System in response to Hurricane Katrina, and was a juror for the Rebuild by Design competition for Hurricane Sandy reconstruction.  Her policy-relevant work focuses on emergency management and disaster recovery at local, state, national, and international levels.

Dr. Cutter has served on many national and international advisory boards including those of US National Research Council (NRC) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), United Kingdom’s DFID Research Advisory Group, and ICSU’s Integrated Research on Disaster Risk Programme.  Dr. Cutter serves  on numerous editorial boards as editor, co-editor, or board member. She is also serving as the Editor-in-Chief for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science.

Dr. Cutter is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1999).  She is also past President of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) (2000), and past President of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) (2008).  Dr. Cutter held the MunichRe Foundation Chair (2009-2012) on Social Vulnerability through the United Nations University-Institute for Environment and Human Security, in Bonn, Germany.  In 2010, Dr. Cutter received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the AAG, its highest honors and was awarded its Presidential Achievement Award in 2018.   In 2015 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway and was also elected as a foreign member of the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters.