Kienberger et al. 2009: Spatial vulnerability units

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Type of Document article (in journal)
Author S. Kienberger, S. Lang, P. Zeil
Title Spatial vulnerability units – expert-based spatial modelling of socio-economic vulnerability in the Salzach catchment , Austria
Year 2009
Journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Science
Volume 9(3)
Pages 767-778
Vulnerability System
Natural System Biophysical System
Groups Population in general
Vulnerability Driver
Hydrometeorological driver (River-)Flood
Scope of driver Explicit
Spatial scale of driver local
Temporal scale of driver Discrete Shock
Interaction between drivers No interaction
Reference Framework
Spatial unit Grid
Geographical area Western Europe
Research area Salzach river in Austria
Economic group of research area Developed countries
Temporal scale of assessment Point of time
Operational Approach
Research design Case study
Data collection method Secondary data / official statistics, Mapping
Main source of data Secondary data
Data analysis method Modelling & Simulation, Spatial analysis, Indexing
Name of index Vulnerability index
Weighting of indicators Expert judgement, MCDA
Aggregation of indicators Additive
Indicator framework Adaptation / Adaptive capacity
Indicators Workforce in economy sectors, Size of companies, Ecosystem integrity, health facilities, Early warning, Origin of population, Education
Participatory approach No
Theoretical Approach
Definition of vulnerability Explicit
Theoretical approach Integrated Approach
Theoretical framework Hazard-of-place Model
Scientific community Climate change


The assessment of vulnerability has moved to centre-stage of the debate between different scientific disciplines related to climate change and disaster risk management. Composed by a combination of social, economical, physical and environmental factors the assessment implies combining different domains as well as quantitative with qualitative data and makes it therefore a challenge to identify an integrated metric for vulnerability. In this paper we define vulnerability in the context of climate change, targeting the hazard “flood”. The developed methodology is being tested in the Salzach river catchment in Austria, which is largely prone to floods. The proposed methodology allows the spatial quantification of vulnerability and the identification of vulnerability units. These units build upon the geon concept which acts as a framework for the regionalization of continuous spatial information according to defined parameters of homogeneity. Using geons, we are capable of transforming singular domains of information on specific systemic components to policy-relevant, conditioned information. Considering the fact that vulnerability is not directly measurable and due to its complex dimension and social construction an expert-based approach has been chosen. Established methodologies such as Multicriteria Decision Analysis, Delphi exercises and regionalization approaches are being integrated. The method not only enables the assessment of vulnerability independent from administrative boundaries, but also applies an aggregation mode which reflects homogenous vulnerability units. This supports decision makers to reflect on complex issues such as vulnerability. Next to that, the advantage is to decompose the units to their underlying domains. Feedback from disaster management experts indicates that the approach helps to improve the design of measures aimed at strengthening preparedness and mitigation. From this point of view, we reach a step closer towards validation of the proposed method, comprising critical useroriented aspects like adequateness, practicability and usability of the provided results in general.

Definition of vulnerability

1……...vulnerability as the residual of climate change impacts reduced by adaptation. 2……...vulnerability as a general characteristic of societies generated by different social and economic factors and processes. (Page 769,Bogardi et al., 2005)

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