Puerto Rico’s Social Vulnerability Index

In 2016, an occurrence of “El Niño” brought about a drought, in 2017 we had hurricanes Irma and María, and now in 2020 we’ve had a series of earthquakes. Puerto Rico has suffered from natural events that have had significant effects on the economy, aside from the impact on its residents.

The Hurricane María experience and what we’ve seen after the recent earthquakes has shown us that there hasn’t been an effective plan to bring help to the more vulnerable areas of Puerto Rico.

We constantly see children’s diapers brought to places where there are senior citizens and adult diapers brought to places where there are small children. Help hasn’t been arriving to where it is most needed.

A vulnerable person is someone with a reduced capability to deal with an emergency such as an earthquake, a hurricane, or an outbreak of disease. There are many social factors that can influence this.

For the government, agencies, and interested organizations to be better informed regarding vulnerable areas and their needs, the CDC commissioned two emergency management agencies to develop the Social Vulnerability Index.

This Index is based on a series of data selected by the Geospatial Research, Analysis & Services Program (GRASP) from the US Census. Inteligencia Económica applied this index to Puerto Rico using more up-to-date information at the county level. In the future, this could be updated to include data at the barro and census block level.

The Social Vulnerability Index is useful for determining how many supplies are needed, how much emergency personnel are needed, and what areas will be most in need of help. This can help both the public and private sectors when making decisions to prepare for or respond to an emergency.


The 5 most vulnerable municipalities are Guánica, Arroyo, Loíza, Jayuya, and Comerío. Guánica finds itself at the top of this list due to its high poverty rate and disabled population. In both these categories, it is the most vulnerable municipality. What these municipalities share is a lack of economic activity, which we can see in their high poverty rates, low per capita income, amount of homes without access to a vehicle, and low amount of federal funds received when compared with other municipalities.

The 5 least vulnerable municipalities are Guaynabo, Dorado, Hatillo, Toa Alta, and Gurabo. These municipalities all show low poverty rates, high levels of per capita income, high levels of access to vehicles, and low unemployment rates.

It is worth mentioning that even though the San Juan metro area municipalities show vulnerabilities in various categories related to urban life, such as lack of access to a vehicle, multi-unit housing, and homeless population, these are all offset by high per capita income, high municipal budgets and high amounts of federal funding. The most vulnerable municipality in the San Juan metro area is Cataño, at number 10. The next one in our rankings is San Juan, at number 61.