University of Tartu researchers and the Rescue Board have designed a tool to identify vulnerable groups in crisis situations

The crisis sociology research group of the University of Tartu Institute of Social Studies and the Estonian Rescue Board have designed a tool helping to target rescue services and social assistance, as well as information, more effectively before and during emergencies.

Previously, no detailed assessment of social vulnerability in emergencies or plans to mitigate the impact of such situations had been carried out in Estonia. The coronavirus pandemic, however, revealed the urgent need for an analytical tool to identify those in need and to define more clearly what information and support they need in the event of emergency. The new analysis tool designed within the BuildERS project offers an opportunity to systematically analyse the social aspects of crisis vulnerability.


Factors of vulnerability in an emergency. Source: Crisis sociology research team of the University of Tartu Institute of Social Studies

Crisis experiences have shown that the prevailing understanding of the vulnerability of certain social groups, such as the elderly and people with disabilities, has become obsolete. As confirmed during the corona pandemic, anyone can become vulnerable under certain conditions and therefore, the sources of vulnerability and the vulnerable people should be analysed separately for each type of crisis.

“As a typical modern state, we have many datasets and registers reflecting the different vulnerabilities of people, but so far we have not used the opportunity to put these datasets into work for emergency planning and response,” said Kati Orru, Associate Professor of Sociology of Sustainability at the University of Tartu. The designed analysis tool enables to link vulnerability factors to the databases and provide guidance on cross-usage of the data to get information about the vulnerable groups. “It’s time we no longer identify vulnerable people solely based on the list of Christmas card recipients or the list of users of social services,” Orru added.


Vulnerability indicators in Estonian databases. Source: Crisis sociology research team of the University of Tartu Institute of Social Studies

According to Margo Klaos, Head of the South Regional Rescue Centre, the analysis tool helps specify the sources of vulnerability and the factors that aggravate vulnerability. “For example, people may be vulnerable because communications masts are out of service and they cannot get information – like it happened during the last major storm in south-eastern Estonia. Vulnerabilities may also occur if people do not understand the crisis information because it is communicated to them in a foreign language or through an unknown channel, or if, for example, they are unable to evacuate the danger area independently,” Klaos described the factors and sources of vulnerability.

In the course of BuildERS, the project aiming to increase social resilience, representatives of the University of Tartu and the Estonian Rescue Board discussed the using of the tool with crisis management experts of the Government Office, Estonian Rescue Board, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. The need for social vulnerability analysis is also addressed in the recently amended Emergency Act.

BuildERS (Building European Communities’ Resilience and Social Capital) is an international research and development project. Its partners in Estonia are the University of Tartu, Estonian Rescue Board and OÜ Positium. The project focuses on vulnerable groups and communities and their capacity to help their members. Its main goal is to increase citizens’ social capital and thereby, their resilience. The project is funded by the EU programme Horizon 2020.

Further information:
Kati Orru, Associate Professor of Sociology of Sustainability, University of Tartu, +372 515 8545, kati.orru [ät] ut.ee
Margo Klaos, Head of South Regional Rescue Centre, Estonian Rescue Board, +372 503 5112, margo.klaos [ät] rescue.ee

Sandra Sommer Press Adviser +372 737 5681
+372 5307 7820 sandra.sommer [ät] ut.ee
www.ut.ee