The global change literature has experienced a significant, growing interest in vulnerability since the early 1990s. Although a host of authors have provided overarching conceptual discussions of vulnerability, they have largely ignored methodological issues. Consequently, several papers have recently addressed the topic of operationalizing vulnerability. Despite this growing number of vulnerability studies privileging methodology, we are unaware of published papers tackling the challenge of how to conduct a coordinated vulnerability assessment in multiple places. The HERO project, with this chapter, responds to that gap in the literature.
By addressing the topic of replicable protocols, the HERO project seeks to advance the science of vulnerability. Coupled human–environment systems are dynamic, which means that the vulnerability estimated at one point in time or space may not be a faithful predictor of vulnerability at a later point in time or another point in space. Therefore, as argued elsewhere in similar contexts (e.g., Chapter 5 of this volume; Redman et al. 2004; Gragson and Grove 2006; Haberl et al. 2006; Polsky et al. 2007), replicable protocols must be consistently applied to vulnerability assessments over time and space to develop a database sufficiently sensitive to distinguish trends from anomalies. Thus, HERO is aiming to contribute to a larger discussion on scientific infrastructure development (see Chapters 1, 3, and 5).
In the remainder of this chapter, we first elaborate on methodological issues associated with conducting vulnerability assessments in the context of a multi-site network.