SSEER Census

Graphic: 648 Researchers in SSEER Database

The 2018 Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) Census

This page summarizes the results of the 2018 Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) Census. The results are based on the responses gathered from social scientists who responded to the SSEER survey between its release date on July 8, 2018 and December 31, 2018.

Researcher Numbers and Locations

How many social science hazards and disaster researchers are there?

As of December 31, 2018, 648 researchers signed up for the SSEER network.

Where are the SSEER researchers located?

The SSEER map is organized by United Nations (UN) regions and subregions, and users can search for researchers by name or by their location (see Figure 1).

Screenshot of map of world with red dots indicating location of SSEER Researchers
Figure 1. SSEER Interactive Web Map. (Click to view interactive map.)
Figure 2 -
Figure 2. SSEER Researchers by UN Region. (Click to view full size.)

The vast majority of SSEER members reside in the Americas (80.40%). Of those who do not live in the Americas, most live in Europe (9.10%)Asia (5.25%), or Oceania (4.01%). Fewer than 1% of members reside in Africa (.93%). Only two SSEER members (.31%) did not provide a region of residence (see Figure 2).

The table below shows the number of SSEER members by region, subregion, and country. This closer inspection reveals that SSEER membership is highly concentrated in the Americas, with most researchers located in the North American subregion and the United States specifically. Few members are located in the Caribbean, Central American, or South American subregions. More specific details follow in Table 1.

Table 1. SSEER Researchers by UN Region, Subregion, and Country.

Region Number of people in the region Subregion Nuber of people in the subregion Country Number of people in the country
Africa 6 Eastern Africa 2 Zambia 2
Southern Africa 3 South Africa 3
Western Africa 1 Nigeria 1
Americas 521 Caribean 1 Jamaica 1
Central America 1 Mexico 1
North America 499 Canada 28
United States 471
South America 20 Argentina 3
Bolivia 1
Brazil 11
Chile 2
Columbia 1
Peru 1
Venezuela 1
Asia 34 Eastern Asia 10 Japan 6
Republic of China 4
South-Eastern Asia 6 Indonesia 1
Philippines 1
Thailand 3
Union of Republic of Myanmar 1
Southern Asia 15 Bangladesh 3
India 8
Iran 1
Nepal 1
Pakistan 1
Sri Lanka 1
Western Asia 3 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 1
Turkey 1
United Arab Emirates 1
Europe 59 Eastern Europe 1 Romania 1
Northern Europe 27 Denmark 2
Finland 1
Norway 2
Scotland 1
Sweden 3
United Kingdom 18
Southern Europe 15 Italy 4
Portugal 10
Spain 1
Western Europe 16 Austria 4
France 2
Germany 5
The Netherlands 5
Oceania 26 Australia and New Zealand 26 Australia 11
New Zealand 15
Missing 2
Total 648

Researcher Backgrounds

What is the disciplinary background and expertise of the SSEER researchers?

There is no single, universal definition for which disciplines are included in the social sciences and related disciplines in the behavioral sciences and humanities. These blurry boundaries are related to what researchers study and the approaches they use in their work. Generally speaking, however, most social scientists are concerned with the connections between individuals, groups, institutions, and society.

In the SSEER Census, we asked researchers to identify their primary discipline—or set of disciplines for those with multidisciplinary training—as shown in Figure 3. Figure 3 does not sum to 648 because researchers could, and often did, select more than one discipline.

Bar graph of degrees held by SSEER researchers. Numbers are in body copy.
Figure 3. SSEER Researchers by Primary Social Science Discipline. (Click to view full size.)
Pie chart of SSEER Researchers educational and professional background. Numbers are in body copy.
Figure 4. SSEER Researchers by Highest Academic Degree Completed. (Click to view full size.)

What is the educational and professional background of the SSEER researchers?

In the SSEER survey, we asked researchers to share information about their highest level of education completed. Most SSEER researchers hold a doctoral degree (66.98%); the second most common degree held by researchers is a master’s degree (24.07%). Fewer members indicated a highest level of educational attainment at the bachelor’s (4.63%) or associate degree (.62%) or a professional degree (15%) (see Figure 4).

Figure 5. SSEER Researchers by Primary Professional Status. (Click to view full size.)

In terms of primary professional status, most SSEER researchers self-identified as academic researchers (61.41%), followed by students (15.9%) and government researchers (8.8%). Fewer members identify as independent researchers (4.17%)non-profit researchers (4.01%), or private sector researchers (2.16%). Some members identified as another kind of professional (2.93%) and a few indicated they are retired (.31%) (see Figure 5).

Researcher Involvement

What is the level of involvement in hazards and disaster research of the SSEER respondents?

In the 2006 National Research Council consensus study, Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions, the authors raised a number of questions regarding the state of the hazards and disaster research workforce. In response to their calls for a more precise description of the levels of involvement among the members of this community, we asked SSEER researchers to select which of the following categories best describes their current status as a hazards and disaster researcher:

Pie chart of researcher involvement. core researchers (47.99%), followed by emerging researchers (21.6%), periodic researchers (20.22%), and situational researchers (5.25%).
Figure 6. SSEER Researchers by Current Status and Level of Involvement in the Field. (Click to view full size.)

Core Researcher: 

Strongly self-identifies as a hazards/disaster researcher, has a deep commitment to the field, and has engaged in hazards and disaster research for a sustained amount of time.

Periodic Researcher:

Is not primarily engaged in hazards and disaster research but focuses on related topics from time to time throughout one’s professional career.

Situational Researcher:

Not previously trained or involved in the hazards and disaster field but had the opportunity to study new phenomena or processes based on a situational event; for example, a researcher who undertook a study after his or her community was affected by a major disaster.

Emerging Researcher: 

Includes students and others who are new to the field and who are still learning about its disciplinary, multidisciplinary, or interdisciplinary histories, theories, methods, and approaches. Emerging researchers may have limited experience or may not have yet conducted their own original empirical research.

As shown in Figure 6, most SSEER members self-identify as core researchers (47.99%), followed by emerging researchers (21.6%)periodic researchers (20.22%), and situational researchers (5.25%).

Researcher Methods and Approaches

What methods and approaches do SSEER researchers use in their work?

Social scientists often use a range of methods and approaches to collect and analyze data. To capture the range of methodological skills among this community, we asked researchers to identify each of their primary approaches to data collection and analysis. As summarized in Figure 7, the most popular methodological approaches include in-depth interviews, survey research, and case studies. The numbers in the figure do not sum to the sample size of 648 because researchers had the option to choose more than one approach, and most did so.

Bar graph of SSEER Researcher Methods
Figure 7. Methodological Approaches to Data Collection and/or Analysis. (Click to view full size.)
Bar graph of SEER Researchers focus areas.
Figure 8. Disaster Phases Studied by SSEER Researchers.

What phases of the disaster lifecycle have the SSEER researchers studied?

Social scientists who research hazards and disasters often identify themselves by the disaster phases, disaster types, and disaster events they study. Accordingly, the SSEER survey included a range of questions to better understand the expertise that these researchers possess.

Figure 8 shows the different phases across the disaster lifecycle that SSEER researchers have studied. Most SSEER researchers have focused on disaster preparedness (N = 498), followed by mitigation (N = 399)long-term recovery (N = 382)emergency response (N = 375), and short-term reconstruction (N = 228). The numbers here and in the figure below do not sum to the sample size of 648 because researchers had the option to choose more than one phase.

What disaster types and disasters have the SSEER researchers studied?

Figure 9 includes a summary of all disaster types that SSEER members indicated having studied. As shown below, the majority of SSEER researchers study natural hazards (N = 609; 93.98%), which includes geophysical, meteorological, hydrological, climatological, biological, and extraterrestrial events. In addition, some of the respondents indicated that they also study technological hazards (N = 184; 28.4%) such as industrial accidents, transport accidents, and toxic exposures. The smallest portion of SSEER respondents indicated that they focus on terrorism or other willful acts of violence (N = 122; 18.83%). The numbers in the figure below do not sum to the sample size of 648 because researchers had the option to choose more than one disaster type that they study.

Bar graph of disaster types studied by SSEER researchers. Data in text above.
Figure 9. Disaster Types Studied by SSEER Researchers.
Figure 10. Number of Disaster Events Studied by SSEER Members.
To gain more specific information, we asked the SSEER researchers to identify up to 10 specific disaster events that they have studied during their career (as described in more detail below, a few researchers identified more than 10 events). In the end, we received over 700 unique responses to this question, which are also viewable along with keywords characterizing research expertise through each researcher’s profile in the SSEER map. Based on replies detailing disasters studied by name of event and year, 24.07% of SSEER members either refrained from responding to the question or had not studied any disasters (N = 156). However, from here, a nearly linear pattern emerged in the data such that, for the most part, SSEER members were more likely to respond that they had studied fewer events than more events. Specifically, nearly as many respondents had studied one disaster event (N = 85; 13.12%) as had studied two (N = 84; 12.96%) or three (N = 75; 11.57%) disaster events. A moderate amount of SSEER members studied four (N = 56; 8.64%), five (N = 49; 7.56%), or six events (N = 43; 6.64%). Less than 5% of SSEER members had researched seven (N = 27; 4.17%), eight (N = 15; 2.31%), or nine events (N = 13; 2.01%), respectively, though just over 5% of members had researched 10 events (5.09%). Few SSEER members indicated they had studied eleven disaster events (N = 8; 1.23%), and less than 1% of members studied twelve or thirteen events (N = 3; .46% and N = 1; .15%) (see Figure 10).

It is interesting to note that among SSEER researchers, the top 10 most frequently studied disasters have all occurred in the 21st century and most of these events happened in the United States (see Figure 11). Again, these results should be interpreted with care since this is not yet a complete census of the entire social science community, and SSEER membership is heavily concentrated in the United States. These results are, however, suggestive of which events receive the most attention and in which parts of the world. At the same time, it is important to underscore that SSEER researchers offered over 700 unique responses to the question of which disasters they have studied, and their responses spanned centuries and represented disasters in all of the UN regions.

Bar graph of Commonly Researched Disaster Events by SSEER Members.
Figure 11. Most Commonly Researched Disaster Events by SSEER Members. (Click to view full size.)

Researcher Demographics

What is the demographic composition of the SSEER research workforce?

The demographic composition of the hazards and disaster research workforce has long been of interest to leaders within the field. One area of special concern is whether or not those studying disasters reflect the demographics of the populations being studied.

With this in mind, we closed the SSEER survey by asking a series of questions regarding respondent age and years of experience, race and ethnicity, and gender identity.

In the 2018 Census, SSEER researchers ranged in age from 21 to 78 years. The average age of the SSEER researchers is 41.68 years, and 10.1 years is the average length of research experience in the hazards and disaster field. Of all respondents, 16.82% did not provide their age.

SSEER survey respondents were asked to select which racial and ethnic categories best describe their identity. When prompted, most SSEER respondents said they identified as White (61.73%). Fewer SSEER members identified as Asian/Asian American (13.73%)Hispanic/Latino (5.40%), or Black/African American (4.32%). A small percentage of respondents selected two or more racial or ethnic categories (2.01%) or some other provided identity option (.62%) such as Indigeous, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander or Arab/Arab American/Middle Eastern. We included “prefer not to answer” and “prefer to self-describe” response options, in recognition that some respondents both inside and outside the United States may be uncomfortable with available fixed identity categories. A sizeable minority (12.19%) of SSEER respondents were coded as “missing” because they did not respond to the race/ethnicity question, chose “prefer not to answer,” or selected “prefer to self-describe” (see Table 2).

Table 2. Racial/Ethnic Identity of SSEER Researchers.

Frequency Percentage
White 400 61.73%
Asian/Asian American 89 13.73%
Hispanic/Latino 35 5.40%
Black/African American 28 4.32%
Two or more racial/ethnic identities 13 2.01%
Some other provided racial/ethnic identity 4 0.62%
Missing 79 12.19%
Total 648 100%

Table 3. Gender Identity of SSEER Researchers.

Frequency Percentage
Woman 340 52.47%
Man 274 42.28%
Some other answer 34 5.25%
Total 648 100%


Teams of social scientists first began systematically studying disasters in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In the decades since, there have been several calls to learn more about the composition of this research workforce to ensure that it is prepared to meet the challenges posed by a highly unequal social world and an ever more turbulent natural world. In their report on the status of the field, the Committee on Disaster Research in the Social Sciences acknowledged, however, that “it is difficult to be very precise about the demographic structure of hazards and disaster research due to the absence of good data” (NRC, 2006, pp. 322-323). This report responds to that gap by summarizing the results of the first census of social scientists who study hazards and disasters. Our analysis of the SSEER network data has allowed us to characterize the demographic composition, methods and approaches, and other attributes among this dynamic research community.

We will release the SSEER Census results annually via the CONVERGE website so that we can continue to monitor the status of the social science hazards and disaster research field. We will also continue to update the interactive SSEER map regularly, so if you are a social scientist how studies extreme events and have not yet joined, you are invited to do so.

Recommended Citation

Peek, Lori, Haorui Wu, Mason Mathews, Heather Champeau, and Jessica Austin. 2019. “The 2018 Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) Census.” Boulder, CO: Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder.

Further Work

For further interpretation and analyses of this data, please see:

Peek, Lori, Heather Champeau, Jessica Austin, Mason Mathews, and Haorui Wu. 2020. “What Methods Do Social Scientists Use to Study Disasters? An Analysis of the Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) Network.” American Behavioral Scientist 64(8): 1066-1094.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1745611 and #1841338). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, the Natural Hazards Center, or CONVERGE.

Much gratitude is owed to the members of the Natural Hazards Center team, with special thanks to: Jolie Breeden for technical and editorial support; Jeffrey Gunderson for web and data management expertise; and Rachel Adams, Emmanuelle Hines, and Jennifer Tobin for their careful review of earlier drafts of this census.