• Alexandra Gross

Tailoring Preparedness Strategies According to Community Social Vulnerabilities

This report was written for the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) in 2018. I used my sociological background to research the ways in which social vulnerabilities (age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) affect an individual's likelihood of being prepared for a disaster and subsequently the ways in which preparedness strategies can be tailored according to these vulnerabilities to improve their effectiveness.

Executive Summary

Mapping out the full range of hazards in a city as large as Calgary poses a monumental challenge. One way to address this challenge is by encouraging residents to map out the hazards in their own communities. However, simply mapping out hazards is not enough to improve preparedness. To effectively increase preparedness, the social context of the residents must be considered. This involves analyzing not just the physical vulnerabilities in the community, but the social ones as well. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for a city as big as Calgary; different preparedness strategies must be tailored according to the vulnerabilities of each community (Cutter & Emrich, 2006, p. 102).

To show how this can be done, I conducted a sociological analysis of the southwest Calgary community of Haysboro. First, the potential physical hazards within Haysboro were mapped out; the geographical location of the community was found to place residents at a moderate risk of impact from natural disasters (such as severe storms and extreme heat waves), but a fairly low risk of impact from a technological disaster. Next, the demographic data of the community were used to predict the greatest social vulnerabilities; these included a high proportion of elderly residents (many of whom likely have limited social networks) and renters, as well as a median household income that is significantly lower than the value for the city as a whole. Lastly, specific preparedness strategies with a participatory action focus were formulated and tailored according to the hazards and vulnerabilities unique to Haysboro. Based on these findings, I recommend that the Calgary Emergency Management Agency establish an ongoing dialogue with community associations across the city to conduct hazard mapping exercises with residents, conduct surveys to attain vulnerability data that cannot be derived from civic census results, and develop strategies for preparedness development specific to the needs of the most vulnerable populations within each community.


The Canadian city of Calgary currently has a population of over 1.2 million people (“Civic Census Results,” 2018, p. 4). With a city this size and growing, identifying and preparing for all potential hazards across Calgary communities poses a significant challenge. The first step in identifying these hazards is to ask residents to map out hazards within their own community. This is an approach that CEMA (Calgary Emergency Management Agency) was already interested in pursuing prior to this project (L. Harris, personal communication, September 25, 2018). However, tailoring preparedness strategies to hazards is not enough. If preparedness strategies are to be effective, the social context of each community must be taken into account. One of the simplest ways to predict social vulnerabilities within communities is by using their respective civic census data. This is the approach I used, although there are some drawbacks to this method, as I will discuss toward the end of the paper. Before going any further, some terms that will be used frequently throughout this project must be defined.

In the context of this study, the term hazard can be used interchangeably with physical vulnerability. A physical vulnerability is geographical; the closer an individual is to a hazard, the greater their exposure is to it, and thus the greater their physical vulnerability (Wood, Burton, & Cutter, 2010, p. 370). Identifying physical vulnerabilities prior to a disaster event is integral to improving preparedness, response, and recovery plans. Residents themselves are often not fully aware of their own level of risk in their communities (Thistlethwaite, Henstra, Peddle, & Scott, 2017, p. 1). By encouraging residents to map out hazards within their community themselves, their own awareness of their personal level of risk will increase and they will subsequently be more likely to make plans that can be completed on an individual or household level to improve preparedness.

Social vulnerability, in contrast, involves sensitivity rather than exposure (Wood et al, 2010, p. 370). It is defined as “the product of social inequalities…a function of demographic characteristics…but also more complex constructs such as health care provision, social capital and access to lifelines” (Cutter & Emrich, 2006, p. 103). Demographic characteristics include but are not limited to: age (children and the elderly), social network size, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, social class, income, wealth, educational attainment, employment status, mental and physical health, and property ownership. These characteristics should be mapped out in addition to physical vulnerabilities, using the demographic data specific to each community. Understanding social vulnerability is just as important as identifying physical vulnerabilities; the greater an individual’s social vulnerability, the greater their physical vulnerability (Cutter & Emrich, 2006, p. 102). Demographic dimensions predict an individual’s awareness, understanding, and response in all stages of a disaster.

While demographic data are important, they shouldn’t be used to analyze a specific individual; they simply predict the effects of larger institutional impacts. The competing concepts of human agency and structure have been extensively theorized about within social theory. Simply put, human agency refers to an individual’s ability to actively make their own choices (Gasher, Skinner, & Lorimer, 2012, p. 96). Structure, on the other hand, refers to the power of social institutions (such as the family, the education system, the economic system, the political system, etc.) to influence the decisions that an individual makes (Gasher et al., 2012, p. 96). In other words, a structural perspective posits that the social structure determines an individual’s life chances. In reality, there exists a dialectical relationship between the two; people are both a product of society as well as active creators of society.

To take this idea one step further, the feminist pedagogy of intersectionality should also be at the forefront of disaster management (Ryder, 2017, p. 86). Intersectionality is a term originally coined by scholar Kimberle Crenshaw (1989) to describe how societal structures work together to oppress certain categories of individuals (p. 140). For example, the combination of being white, male and working class will create conditions that are less oppressive than will the combination of being black, female and working class. Failing to use an intersectional framework will result in policies that will fail to create any significant positive change; they will only address problems at the surface level. A prominent concept in the sociology of disasters is the continuity principle, which holds that individuals who face discrimination in normal, non-disaster times (particularly those with a low socioeconomic status) will also disproportionately experience discrimination in times of disaster (Tierney, 2007, p. 510). Thus, by recognizing the way that societal structures are likely to disadvantage particular individuals, their needs will be better understood, thereby resulting in preparedness strategies, warning systems, response methods, and recovery strategies that can minimize the harmful physical, psychological, and social effects that a disaster has on an individual’s life and the larger community’s wellbeing as a whole.


Research on social vulnerabilities and disasters has been extensive, but the thoroughness varies according to social dimension. Research on children and disasters, for example, has been largely neglected compared to areas such as socioeconomic status (Peek, 2008, p. 2). It is imperative to keep in mind that these various dimensions cannot be looked at in isolation; there is a high degree of overlap among these categories. It is also worth noting that the majority of literature on vulnerability has been conducted within the United States, thus this paper follows the assumption that many of these findings can be applied to the Canadian social context as well. Nonetheless, I have combined vulnerability research into the following categories: age, race and ethnicity, gender, social class, social capital, and property ownership.

Age is a highly significant predictor of vulnerability. The closer an individual is to either end of the spectrum, the more vulnerable they are likely to be (Peek, 2013, p. 172; Boyne, 2015, p. 15). Thus, elderly adults and children are both highly vulnerable groups. Peek (2013) found that the most important factor in determining who lost their life in the event of Hurricane Katrina was being at least 60 years old (p. 172). The rate of injury for older adults is also very high (Meyer, 2017, p. 48). The reasons for this heightened level of vulnerability are not necessarily a direct result of age, but the result of secondary factors that are correlated with increasing age (Meyer, 2017, p. 48).

There are three significant secondary factors: less financial means, poor physical and mental health, and a lack of social capital (Meyer, 2017, p. 48). Because elderly individuals are unlikely to participate in the labour force, they live on a fixed income and may have a limited ability to use the resources they do have to prepare for a disaster in a short timeframe (Meyer, 2017, p. 48). Furthermore, following a disaster, almost twice as many elderly individuals (compared to younger adults) experienced a decline in their ability to afford an acceptable quality of life (Meyer, 2017, p. 48). With increasing age also comes increasing health concerns, both mentally and physically (Meyer, 2017, p. 48). Elderly individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities may struggle to evacuate, especially if they are living independently (McGuire, Ford, & Okoro, 2007, p. 52). Empirical findings support these predictions; younger adults have been found to respond to warnings at a much greater rate than those within the oldest age category, who were found to have prepared the least for a disaster event (Box, Bird, Haynes, & King, 2016, p. 1558).

Perhaps most importantly, research has found that the disadvantages resulting from a lack of economic resources and poor health experienced by elderly individuals are disproportionately related to social capital; the greater a senior’s social capital, the less vulnerable they are (Meyer, 2017, p. 48). Social capital, in this context, can be defined as “the resources available through social networks” (Meyer, 2017, p. 49). Large social networks in the context of disasters result in less trauma (both psychologically and physically) and shorter recovery periods (Meyer, 2017, p. 49). Unfortunately, as individuals age, their social networks tend to decrease in size (Meyer, 2017, p. 49). Meyer (2017) found that “persons under 65 were four times as likely as persons over 65 to report a social tie that could provide financial assistance in a disaster” (p. 53).

On the other end of the spectrum, children are also an extremely vulnerable group in times of disaster (Peek, 2008, p. 1). Children under six years old are most at risk of experiencing injury and even death (WHO/UNICEF, 2008). They are also more susceptible to experiencing psychosocial trauma after a disaster event (Norris et al., 2002). As mentioned above, the effects of disasters on children is a relatively weakly researched area; Peek (2008) outlines five important reasons for focusing on children in disasters: they are extremely vulnerable, their unique needs are often overlooked, the post-disaster setting can have adverse effects on their development, their participation in disaster preparation can lower their level of vulnerability, and they have unique perspectives that can improve disaster preparedness, response, and recovery approaches (p. 3).

McNeill & Ronan (2017) found that households with children under the age of twelve were less prepared for a disaster event than households without children (p. 1239). The former reported having greater difficulty preparing, as well as a lack of time to do so (McNeill & Ronan, 2017, p. 1239). This remained true regardless of the age of the parents (McNeill & Ronan, 2017, p. 1239). Additionally, families with many dependents are likely to encounter greater obstacles when responding to an emergency due to limited financial reserves and the coupling of work responsibilities and care for family members (Wood et al., 2017, p. 379). This finding is concerning, as research has shown that household preparedness not only benefits children after an event, but also before an event (McNeill & Ronan, 2017, p. 1240). For example, educational programs that target disaster preparation reduce feelings of fear in children and increase safety knowledge and understanding (McNeill & Ronan, 2017, p. 1240). Peek (2008) also found that this type of education was beneficial to children, and that the “experiential learning” method was most effective for children (p. 14).

The published literature on the social vulnerability of race and ethnicity has been extensive, especially since Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina revealed that disasters don’t just disproportionately affect the poor, but also the racialized (Giroux, 2006, p. 174). This revelation both “shocked and shamed the nation” (Giroux, 2006, p. 173). Sharkey (2007) found that, following Hurricane Katrina, the neighbourhoods with the highest numbers of deaths were those that were largely composed of black individuals (p. 484). Black individuals were among those most likely to die in the disaster, and they were also the most likely to go (and stay) missing (Sharkey, 2007, p. 484). Hurricane Katrina revealed the effects of the “new biopolitics of disposability,” a term used to describe the political mentality that the most marginalized and vulnerable populations are disposable (Giroux, 2006, p. 175). Because these residents are often not active contributors to the economic sphere of society, they become invisible; they are expected to take care of themselves while at the same time remaining hidden from the rest of society (Giroux, 2006, p. 175). According to this principle, the low-income and black population of New Orleans were already considered dead before the disaster even hit.

The term “race” is often used to describe anyone who is not white, but race affects all individuals in one way or another, whether it privileges or disadvantages them. Finucane, Slovic, Mertz, Flynn, and Satterfield (2000) conducted a comparative study of the level of perceived risk for white and non-white individuals. They called their findings “the white male effect” (Finucane et al., 2000, p. 164). The white male effect is essentially the phenomenon that white males will consistently be less likely to deem something as a high risk to both themselves and the public, as compared to both male and female non-whites (Finucane et al., 2000, p. 164). Of all potential risks, white men were the least likely to find “handguns, nuclear power plants, second-hand cigarette smoke, multiple sex partners, and street drugs,” to be high-risk hazards (Finucane et al., 2000, p. 164). Furthermore, they found that white males were more hierarchical and individualistic, and less fatalistic and egalitarian (Finucane et al., 2000, p. 165). They were also more likely to believe technological hazards were a low risk and were less likely to trust government (Finucane et al., 2000, p. 167).

Additionally, recent immigrants may have vulnerabilities that are unique. These experiences, however, differ according to language ability and ethnicity. Yong, Lemyre, Pinsent, and Krewski (2017) compared how immigrants in Canada perceive risk to how Canadian-born individuals perceive risk. They found that, although there was variation in how the two groups perceived risk, there was no significant difference in the degree of disaster preparedness between the groups (Yong et al., 2017, p. 2321). More research is required in this area.

Gender is another significant predictor of risk perception, disaster preparedness and vulnerability. It is important to keep in mind that most research has been conducted on cis-men and cis-women in heterosexual relationships, thus our understanding of vulnerability according to gender is limited to these individuals. Risk is often perceived to be lower by men, compared to women (Finucane et al., 2000, p. 159; Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p. 107). Finucane et al. (2000) found that females gave higher-risk responses for every item on the questionnaire (p. 163).

Disasters have an unfortunate tendency to exacerbate traditional gender roles in heterosexual relationships, thereby specifically disadvantaging women (Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p. 107). Women’s elevated sense of risk is often perceived by men as unnecessary panic (Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p. 109). Despite the fact that women often actually have the most information about risk, the men are still likely to have ultimate authority over decisions made on preparedness activities (such as mitigation strategies) and evacuation response (Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p. 108). Men are also more likely to stay behind during an evacuation while the women relocate the rest of the family on their own (Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p. 111). Some research has found that men are as much as twice as likely as women to stay behind (Haney, Elliott, & Fussell, 2007, p. 83).

In the recovery stage, women are more likely than men to lose their jobs due to their commitment to caregiving in the private sphere (Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p. 113). It is primarily women who deal with the bureaucratic process required to obtain assistance, in addition to experiencing a disproportionate increase in domestic work (Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p 114). Men tend to report feeling less stressed than women immediately after a disaster event, but stress response and management is extremely gendered; men’s stress may go unreported more often than women’s (Haney et al., 2007, p. 89). Many couples report feeling an “increased tension” in their relationship, but more seriously, domestic violence has sometimes been found to increase following a disaster (Enarson & Scalon, 1999, p. 115).

Perhaps the most significant of vulnerability indicators, social class has been found to matter at all stages of a disaster (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 89). Disasters were once believed to affect the poor and the rich equally; this assumption has since been debunked. After a disaster, a phenomenon called “the Matthew Effect” takes place, which finds that the poor get poorer and the rich actually get richer (Merton, 1968). The majority of the research has found that individuals with a lower SES status perceive more risk; because they feel they have less control and power over their lives, they are used to feeling vulnerable and thus have a heightened sense of risk (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 91). Although found more rarely, individuals with a lower SES status may also perceive less risk, as a result of working blue-collar jobs where risk is a part of their daily routine (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 92). In terms of preparedness, research has shown that those with a higher SES and higher levels of education are less fatalistic and therefore more prepared (especially in terms of material resources) (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 92). In contrast, lower SES individuals may feel they lack control over their own lives, and therefore do not see the need to take mitigation steps for an event that is perceived to be inevitable (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 92).

In the evacuation (or warning) stage, SES was also found to have a significant effect (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 93). Those with a lower SES are not as likely to “receive, understand, or believe” warnings (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 93). Barriers to receiving and understanding warnings include lacking access to technology, language and cultural barriers (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 93). Barriers to belief stem from a lack of trust in government, due to negative past experiences with bureaucratic dealings (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 93). Additionally, even if the warnings are received and believed, many individuals with a low SES are simply unable to evacuate. These individuals may lack access to transportation, have nowhere to go, and work in precarious jobs that might leave them unemployed if they evacuate (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 93). There are unique challenges faced by residents with a lower SES in the recovery phase as well. As mentioned above, these individuals may have difficulty “negotiating [with] disaster recovery bureaucracies” (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 98). Further obstacles encountered involve a lack of money to recover and a lack of time to reach out to assistance programs due to demands of childcare and paid work (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 99). Finding affordable housing after a disaster is also extremely difficult for these residents (Fothergill & Peek, 2004, p. 99). While these findings do not relate directly to risk perception, they all have implications for evacuation and response planning.

Although an individual’s level of social capital often results from other social dimensions, it is worth discussing on its own. Social capital is generally defined as “socially embedded resources that actors draw upon through their social ties for instrumental purposes” (Elliott, Haney, & Sams-Abiodun, 2010, p. 626). In other words, social capital describes an individual’s social networks. Social capital has been found to be critical in all stages of a disaster, including in the preparation stage. Social capital is generally categorized as either “bonding” or “bridging” (Elliott et al., 2010, p. 625). Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defined bonding social capital as “emerging from inward-oriented networks among socially similar kinds of people that reinforce group identities to the exclusion of others” and bridging social capital as “emerging from outward-oriented networks among socially different kinds of people that effectively span ‘diverse social cleavages’” (Elliott et al., 2010, p. 627). Older individuals, newcomers, and those with a low socioeconomic status (SES) are all more likely to possess bonding social capital than bridging social capital (Elliott et al., 2010, p. 628).

It is also important to look at an individual’s chances of having translocal supportive ties as opposed to just local supportive ties (Elliott et al., 2010, p. 625). The former covers a much greater geographical distance, which can be imperative in disaster situations. Disadvantaged individuals often have fewer translocal ties, lack the resources to make use of these types of ties, or are unable to receive assistance from translocal ties in times of crisis due to these individuals also being in a vulnerable position (Elliott et al., 2010, p. 629). Those with smaller social networks are much less likely to receive assistance prior to evacuation (p. 639). On the other hand, some studies have found that local network ties among disadvantaged groups (especially those with a lower socioeconomic status) are crucial in achieving evacuation (Litt, 2008). The importance of “core anchors” (individuals at the centre of any given network who work to mobilize those within their network) during disasters cannot be overemphasized (Litt, 2008, p. 35). Because individuals with a low SES lack resources during normal times, they forge connections with others in their social circle to help pool resources (Litt, 2008, p. 36). In moments of crisis, these personal networks are more likely to expand in size rather than break down (Litt, 2008, p. 42).

Paying close attention to tenure is also important in predicting disaster preparedness. Renters are much less likely than homeowners to prepare for a disaster and are thus more vulnerable when a disaster hits (Wood et al, 2010, p. 370; Burby, Steinberg, & Basolo, 2003, p. 32). This is especially pertinent in communities that are at a higher risk of a natural event such as a flood; many renters do not know that they are renting within a flood plain (Burningham, Fielding, & Thrush, 2008, p. 221). Renters often lack the financial resources that homeowners have and are therefore more likely to have a low socioeconomic status or immigrant status (Burby et al., 2003, p. 33). Renters are also less likely than homeowners to form relationships with their neighbours and thus lack this component within their social network (Burby et al., 2003, p. 33). Because renters tend to move much more frequently than homeowners, they are less likely to feel the motivation required to investigate their level risk, as well as to receive information on preparedness and mitigation (Burby et al., 2003, p. 33). Even if renters are aware that they may be at risk, they assume that the owner of their building has taken mitigation steps and are less likely to invest resources into a property they do not personally own (Burby et al., 2003, p. 33). In areas where a natural disaster may also lead to a technological hazard, property preparedness is of utmost importance to ensure that residents do not leave a damaged property and subsequently expose themselves to toxic hazards (Burby et al., 2003, p. 33).

Although the literature on vulnerabilities is extensive, research is often conducted on the impact of vulnerability in a post-disaster community. The focus is primarily retrospective rather than predictive. Very few studies use physical and social vulnerability data to make policy decisions prior to a disaster event. An exception to this is a study by Wood et al. (2009) that identified socially vulnerable communities at risk of a tsunami event generated by the Cascadia subduction zone and encouraged the development of risk-reduction planning based on these conditions. However, the focus is more on identifying communities that will need assistance with evacuation, rather than improving household preparedness prior to evacuation. As a massive tsunami caused by the Cascadia subduction zone is an inevitable event that cannot be mitigated in many areas due to both physical and financial resource constraints, planning for evacuation is the most logical action. However, this same exercise should be performed for all communities, in which particular disaster situations are not known with certainty and communities could benefit from preparedness strategies on a local and individual level.


Physical Vulnerabilities

Haysboro is located in the southwest quadrant of Calgary. It is bordered on the east by McLeod Trail, on the west by 14th Street, and on the north by Heritage Drive. The south border is not quite as clear cut; from McLeod Trail, it runs along Southland Drive until it hits Haddon Road, at which point it runs just above Springwood Drive until it reaches 14th Street. The C-train line runs north-south just to the west of McLeod Trail. This transit line roughly demarcates the residential buildings from the commercial buildings, although there are several businesses on the west side. Apartment complexes are primarily dispersed along the east side of Elbow Drive, while houses are primarily on the west. There are four schools within the boundaries; a public elementary school for grades kindergarten to five, another public elementary school for grades kindergarten to six, a public junior high school for grades seven to nine, and a Catholic high school for grades ten to twelve. Businesses along McLeod Trail are fairly diverse but largely include several restaurants, retail stores, automobile shops, grocery stores, sporting goods and rental shops, financial branches, bottle depots, and car washes.

To identify the physical vulnerabilities, I first drove through the community to look for hazards firsthand. Afterwards, I looked for information on buildings and businesses I could not identify by sight, and I contacted the Haysboro Community Association to ask for their input. Physical vulnerabilities were assessed according to their potential to create a technological disaster, or their likelihood of posing a risk in the event of a natural disaster. There are no large industrial plants or power plants within the borders of the community, thus residents are likely not at a high risk of experiencing a technological disaster. Several gas stations within the community could pose a risk, but in the case of a gas fire, an explosion is highly unlikely, as gas stations are built with protective measures to prevent this from happening. The greatest physical vulnerabilities in Haysboro would result from a natural disaster. Flooding is not a high risk in Haysboro, unlike many other Calgary communities. It is, however, susceptible to extreme heat waves, severe thunderstorms and winds, and ice storms. As an older community, there are many properties that are likely not built according to current codes, and there are several areas with overhead power lines and large trees. In a natural disaster, power outages could arise and trees could fall and damage houses (and injure residences within them). However, Haysboro does have several valuable resources very close by. There is a fire station (no. 14) within the community’s boundaries, a police station (district six) just outside the east border (on the corner of McLeod Trail and Heritage Drive), and a hospital along 14th Street, just north-west of the community (K. Branagan, personal communication, November 2, 2018).

Social Vulnerabilities

To obtain an indication of the greatest social vulnerabilities within the community, demographic data for Haysboro were analyzed. The most applicable data have been condensed into tables according to the vulnerability categories discussed above. Consistent with City of Calgary data analyses, Haysboro demographics were compared and contrasted with data for Calgary as a whole. This approach enables us to comparatively determine the strengths and weaknesses of each Haysboro social group.


In the community of Haysboro, population age differs considerably from that of Calgary. The Haysboro population is, on average, five years older than Calgary’s population (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 4). There is a higher percentage of senior citizens, especially elderly senior citizens, and a much smaller percentage of children (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 9). Although there are families with younger children who may be more vulnerable to a disaster, the high percentage of elderly residents is, for this community, a greater concern.


Fewer Haysboro residents than Calgary residents own their own home (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 1). Furthermore, a large percentage of residences within the community are apartment buildings and a higher percentage of residents live within this type of dwelling (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 3). A comparable number of residents (a little under half) moved into their current home within the last 5 years (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 8). Over a third of these residences were new to Calgary, and of these, about a third were new to Canada (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 8). Individuals within these groups are likely to be less aware of their level of risk and therefore less prepared. Furthermore, a greater percentage of properties within the community are in need of major repairs; according to the City of Calgary, major repairs include “dwellings with defective plumbing or electrical wiring and dwellings needing structural repairs to walls, floors or ceilings (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 12). In the event of a large-scale disaster, these residents are at a greater risk of incurring property damage.

Social Capital

There is a much higher percentage of Haysboro couples without children than Calgary couples without children (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 7). Although the number of two-person families is high, the percentage of Haysboro residents who live alone is double that of Calgary as a whole (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 4). Perhaps most importantly, a high percentage of residents who live alone are those aged 65 and over (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 9). While elderly residents are highly vulnerable, this can be offset by a high degree of social capital. Unfortunately, the fact that most of these residents live alone means that they are likely isolated and thus lacking a strong social network.


Language, ethnicity, immigration status, and religious affiliation were lumped together under the category of race for simplicity’s sake. More Haysboro residents speak predominately English and less speak a language other than English or French (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 12). The top 5 non-official languages spoken are Spanish, Tagalog, German, Russian, and Mandarin (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 9). A smaller proportion of residents identify as Indigenous, and half as many are categorized as a “visible minority,” meaning they are racialized (non-white) (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 9).

Less Haysboro residents identify as immigrants (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 1). The ethnic background of Haysboro residents differs substantially from Calgary as a whole; a larger percentage identify as European and African, but less identify as Asian or as immigrants from the Americas (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 6). A little under half identify as European and a little over a third identify as Asian. However, the ethnic makeup of the community looks substantially different when only recent immigrants are considered; of those who lived outside of Canada before 2006, almost two-thirds are from Asia, almost one-fifth are from Africa, only one-tenth are from Europe, and one-tenth are from the Americas (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 7). Furthermore, less Haysboro residents are first- and second-generation immigrants (the former meaning they were born outside of Canada and the later meaning at least one parent was born outside of Canada), and more are third-generation immigrants (both parents born in Canada) (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 7).

In terms of religion, the top two religions in Haysboro are Christianity and Islam; more residents are Christian and less are Muslim, compared to Calgary as a whole. (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 10). The third most popular religion in Haysboro is Buddhism, compared to Sikhism for Calgary (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 10).

Socio-economic Status

Haysboro households make a median income of about $16,000 (before tax) less than Calgarian households (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 1). Almost a third of Haysboro residents spend more than thirty percent of their income on housing (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 1). A greater percentage of Haysboro renters spend more of their income on housing than Calgarian renters (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 11). Lone parent families in Haysboro make about $6,000 more per year than lone parent families in Calgary (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 13). However, couple-only families in Haysboro make over $13,000 less than couple-only families in Calgary, and couple-with-children families make about $5,000 less than couple-with-children families in Calgary as a whole (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 13).

In terms of educational attainment and work, more Haysboro residents have attained post-secondary accreditation, but a greater percentage of these are at the college diploma level rather than the bachelor’s degree level or above (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 3). Labour force participation is comparable to the rest of Calgary (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 4). The primary mode of transportation to work is by driving a personal vehicle, but fewer Haysboro residents drive personal vehicles and more take Calgary Transit, compared to Calgarians as a whole (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 10).


The proportion of females and males in Haysboro is comparable to Calgary overall (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 2). However, there is a smaller percentage of married adults and a greater percentage of adults in a common-law relationship (“Haysboro Demographics,” 2014, p. 8). The percentage of females in the labour force is comparable to Calgary as a whole, but the percentage of males in the labour smaller than for Calgary as a whole (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 4). Females in Haysboro make almost $3000 more per year than females in Calgary, and males make over $1000 less than males in Calgary (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 13).

Preparedness Strategies

Before delving into how these vulnerable groups can be better prepared for a disaster, I want to emphasize the role of participatory action in all disaster planning strategies. The participatory action approach within disaster management involves treating citizens as partners in planning and recovery and creating specific strategies for action that arise from this partnership (Kelman, Lewis, Gaillard, & Mercer, 2011, p. 63; Brody, Godschalk, & Burby, 2003, p. 246). The effectiveness of this approach has been demonstrated repeatedly in past research; this approach will form the foundation of my recommendations (Burby, 2003, p. 34; Madan & Routray, 2015, p. 545).

I particularly wish to emphasize the feminist participatory method of photovoice. This method involves asking participants to use photographs and accompanying descriptions or stories (ranging anywhere from a sentence to several pages) “to identify and represent issues of importance to them,” thereby allowing both participants and researchers to develop a greater understanding and awareness of the issue (Nykiforuk, Vallianatos, & Nieuwendyk, 2011, p. 104). This method would be particularly useful for community hazard mapping exercises. By asking Haysboro residents to go out and take a photograph of something they believe to be a hazard, write a short description of the photograph, and then submit it to the Haysboro Community Association (or even CEMA directly), residents will increase their own personal awareness of risks in their communities, as well as help the City of Calgary identify unknown hazards. Kelman et al. (2011) actually found that the participatory action of the vulnerability mapping exercise was more important than the produced map itself (p. 67). Although this strategy could be used to increase disaster preparedness in the most vulnerable social groups in Haysboro, it could also prove useful in preparing other demographic resident groupings.

Another useful participatory approach is the Disaster Resilience Scorecard Toolkit (Singh-Peterson, Salmon, Goode, & Gallina, 2016). This tool allows communities to “undertake their own assessment” (Singh-Peterson et al., 2016, p. 489). A scorecard like this should involve both predetermined questions with predetermined answers that can be easily transformed into quantitative data, as well as open-ended questions and comment sections where residents can tailor the scorecard to better reflect the reality of their own community resilience and needs. While there have been challenges to encouraging residents to participate in this exercise, individual community associations could likely obtain better results, due to their closer connection with residents.

After analyzing census data for Haysboro, three demographic and socioeconomic patterns became most apparent:

  • A high proportion of renters (as opposed to homeowners)

  • A high proportion of seniors, who are likely quite isolated

  • A median income almost 20% lower than the rest of the city, suggesting limited financial resources

Thus, tenure, age, social capital, and socioeconomic status appear to be the greatest social vulnerabilities within the community of Haysboro. Although my analysis will mostly focus on these, it is important to keep in mind that the importance of gender as an indicator of vulnerability does not diminish or increase depending on the ratio of males to females, but rather remains pertinent in all disaster planning exercises. However, as this report endeavors to analyze the ways in which Haysboro differs from Calgary as a whole, I will focus more on these dimensions.

Strategies to improve renter preparedness must target both renters themselves, as well as the property owners. The first challenge involves identifying landlords and tenants within a community. Steps should first be taken to identify landlords; these property owners can then disseminate information to their tenants, and they are also more likely to own and rent out a given property longer than the tenant will rent it. Owners and residents of rental condominiums, such as the Hays Farm apartment buildings in Haysboro, are the easiest to identify. The challenge lies in identifying landlords renting out a house rather than apartment suite; census data, or independently-conducted surveys, is likely the best method for identifying these individuals.

In addition to developing methods for targeting renters and landlords, preparedness steps based on the disaster context must also be explored. Because Haysboro is most at risk of being impacted by certain types of natural disasters, apartment complexes and residential houses are at risk of incurring structural damage and power loss. Property owners should be encouraged to explore structural damage mitigation methods; this entails providing them with information on types of financial assistance available to them to make structural improvements (Burby et al., 2003, p. 34). Ensuring that a property is as safe as it can be, and as physically prepared as is reasonably possible prior to a disaster, is a big component to this. Landlords should be responsible for creating a 72-hour kit that will meet the needs of all tenants; the cost of this could be compensated for through monthly rent. Because renters also tend to be lower income individuals, this would also solve the problem of the 72-hour kit being used in normal times, when a family has an immediate need of its resources (“Build a 72-hour Kit,” 2018).

Unlike landlords, renters are simply unaware or lacking both the information and motivation for disaster preparedness. Thus, renter preparedness strategies should be primarily focused on targeted information campaigning (Burby et al., 2003, p. 51). These information campaigns should both highlight the types of hazards that renters are faced with, as well as actions they can take to protect themselves and increase preparedness (Burby et al., 2003, p. 51). Again, the importance of the property owner or landlord becomes important to the dissemination of information to their tenants. Landlords should outline the preparedness steps they have taken, as well as the steps that renters can and should take.

Preparedness strategies for the second group of vulnerable Haysboro residents – seniors – should focus on the overlapping dimensions of advanced age and diminished social capital. These two issues cannot be separated for most Haysboro seniors. It is likely that most Haysboro homes do not have air conditioning installed, for two primary reasons: the properties are old and thus were not originally built with this technology, and Calgarians have not historically needed air conditioning. In recent years, Calgary summers have been higher in temperature, resulting in repeated heat warnings. If this trend continues, we could very possibly see an extreme heat event which would put physically vulnerable seniors at risk of incurring harmful health effects. Similarly, in a severe storm, the overhead power lines in the community could be damaged. Senior residents are less likely to own a cell phone, so if the power goes out, they may not be able to contact anyone for help, especially if they have limited mobility. This same problem exists for the emergency warning message sent out to phones, television, and radio, although warnings might be received by seniors through television news stations and landline phones. Because senior citizens are generally less connected to technology overall, regardless of the medium, they are less likely to receive these warnings. In terms of information dissemination, Box et al. (2016) found that individuals who were aged 65 and older were less interested in receiving information in the form of maps and websites, and more interested in information made available through media campaigns (p. 1560).

Most importantly, however, is not improving access to risk information to seniors, as it is with renters. Rather, it is the limited social capital and the potential lack of resources of the Haysboro seniors that preparedness strategies must address. Although seniors are encouraged to “keep an updated list of family and friends who may be able to assist,” isolated Haysboro senior residents may be lacking these support networks (“Preparing for an Emergency as a Senior,” 2018). The number of friends and family members may be lacking both translocally and locally. If not being done already, seniors clubs should be offered and promoted by the Haysboro Community Association. The organization of activities such as crib nights or afternoon puzzles and coffee get-togethers would help tremendously in encouraging senior residents to form relationships with other members of their community. As older individuals tend to be less likely to own or feel comfortable driving a personal vehicle, transportation should either be provided, or arranged through Community Association volunteers. Although seniors tend to have more limited resources, by creating social connections, they will be able to pool together what resources they do have. Additionally, programs that allow seniors to form relationships with younger community members are also important, as they may have a greater ability to assist seniors in times of crisis, especially where a greater physical ability is needed.

The third group of vulnerable residents – those lacking financial resources – pose preparedness challenges that are not easily addressed. As discussed above, the continuity principle means that the challenges these individuals face in normal times will also exist, if not be exacerbated, during a disaster. The most effective preparedness strategy would be to improve or rectify their financial situation prior to a disaster; this is a complex societal problem that cannot realistically be rectified easily, if at all. Disaster management agencies could increase financial spending on these individuals, but this is not always possible either, as management agencies do not have a limitless budget, nor is it always effective, particularly in the preparedness stage (as has been seen with the 72-hour kits). Emphasis should instead be placed on preparing these individuals and households for the evacuation stage. While the Household Emergency Action Plan is a valuable tool for lower income households (when they use it), a single household often does not have the necessary resources to achieve a successful evacuation (“Household Emergency Action Plan,” 2018). Action plans should expand beyond an individual household to the wider community. This could be done by setting up core anchors prior to a disaster.

To set up core anchors, community networking activities would have to be performed prior to an event. Community members would establish the available resources and create a plan outlining how they could be pooled during a disaster. For example, individuals with access to personal vehicles could volunteer any available seats as a community resource. Telephone trees could be organized in advance of a disaster, and the designated core anchors would instigate these. Low SES individuals are also more likely to trust the judgement of a core anchor over that of a government worker, thus they may provide greater motivation to evacuate as well. Emphasizing social networking for lower SES individuals and households is the most effective preparedness strategy.


First, I recommend that CEMA do one of two things to improve available vulnerability data; collect data independently or provide input on survey questions for future civic censuses. While the civic census data are extremely valuable to analyses like this, they do have their limitations. To obtain a more accurate and complete picture of social vulnerability, additional data are required. For example, while degree of religiosity is an indicator of vulnerability, I have not included it in this analysis, as there are no data for religious involvement in Haysboro. While the top religious affiliations were recorded, the percentage of Haysboro residents who identified as religious was either not asked or just deemed irrelevant (“Haysboro Socioeconomics,” 2011, p. 10). Additionally, while there is information on transportation, it only addresses transportation type used to get to work; it does not indicate whether residents have access to personal vehicles or are limited to public transportation. This is especially problematic for the senior population, who likely do not participate in the labour force; there is no data on whether or not they are able to drive themselves.

It is also important to be aware of “the category of shifting vulnerability” (Browne & Peek, 2013, p. 94). This approach looks at vulnerability not as a rigid, unchanging category, but recognizes that an individual’s level of vulnerability may fluctuate throughout their lifetime (Browne & Peek, 2013, p. 94). If a vulnerable population’s unique needs are not addressed, their level of vulnerability may increase exponentially over time (Browne & Peek, 2013, p. 94). Again, the census data falls short here. We know how many seniors there are, and how many low-income households there are, but we do not know how many seniors are also categorized as low-income. The president of the Haysboro Community Association is in contact with the South West Community Resource Centre; this relationship could be useful in obtaining vulnerability information that can supplement the census data (K. Branagan, personal communication, November 2, 2018).

CEMA should also work closely with community associations to deliver preparedness strategies and actively involve residents in preparedness exercises. Community organizations have been particularly effective in disseminating information because they have credibility with residents and can better use word-of-mouth strategies. (Burby et al., 2003, p. 51). The role of community associations might include organizing hazard mapping exercises, which could be done in the form of a photovoice activity or a mail-out/email questionnaire, as some of the best hazard information will come from residents themselves. This was a big limitation I found while performing hazard mapping myself, as I am not a resident of this community and am thus lacking the familiarity and insight that residents have. CEMA’s system appears to have extensive information on physical hazards across the city, thus the information on physical hazards that residents encounter may not always be new, but if nothing else, this activity will improve resident awareness of personal risk and encourage them to start thinking about what they can do individually to improve preparedness.

My final recommendation is for The Haysboro Community Association. I strongly encourage organizing social activities specifically tailored towards decreasing the isolation of seniors within the community, if this has not been done already. Activities could also involve engaging residents in setting up core anchors. The Association may also be able to help CEMA identify owners of rental properties, if only through a process of elimination.


Potential physical hazard mapping revealed that the southwest community of Haysboro was at a greater risk of facing natural disasters such as extreme heat, severe thunderstorms, wind storms, and ice storms, and a lesser risk of being impacted by a technological disaster. Hazards were primarily attributed to the older age of the community; buildings were less structurally sound and overhead power lines existed. The demographic census data of the community revealed that there were three primary vulnerable social groups; a high proportion of isolated elderly residents, a high proportion of renters, and a low median household income. Specific strategies for preparedness were recommended for these particular social groups according to their specific disaster context and a participatory action approach was recommended for disaster planning in all communities. These results are meaningful because they show that a focus on social vulnerability is crucial to improving the effectiveness of disaster preparedness strategies. Furthermore, by focusing on a single community at a time, preparedness strategies can be delivered with the help of community associations. This bottom-up approach (as opposed to top-down) creates a fresh perspective on disaster preparedness and can help address areas where mitigation is currently lacking, or even failing.


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