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Impact of Disaster on Communities: Demographics: Describing Your Community

This research guide is designed to help with research that requires you to create a community profile and to identify vulnerable populations and possible hazards.

Working with Data

What topics do you need?

  • Race, gender, age, educational attainment...

What unit of analysis do you need?

  • Individuals, families, households...
  • Companies, schools...
  • Automobiles, commodities...

What geographic unit do you need?

  • National: U.S., country level
  • State, regional, county/parish, local, cities...
  • International

What time period/years do you need?

  • Fixed time: most recent available, past 5 years, historical...
  • Time series: annual, quarterly, every 10 years...

Knowing what you need is an important first step. Don't skip it! You need to have a strong idea of the specific data needed to answer your research question. Come  meet with a librarian.

Who would collect this data?

When searching for data, think carefully about what organizations might have collected the data you need.  Governments and international organizations often maintain and provide access to the data they collect, while businesses and independent researchers' data are less available to the public. For the later, subscriptions to data archives and business databases are sometimes a solution.

Here are some possible data collectors to consider:


  • Generally free, may be on the internet or in print (e.g. books, almanacs)
  • Data format varies widely
  • Collected through research to help aid policy decisions
  • Also collected through administrative processes as a result of work the government does
  • Examples:
    • U.S. Federal level: Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Center for Disease Control
    • U.S. State & Local level: Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, New Orleans Department of Information Technology & Innovation
    • Non-U.S. government: Indonesia Central Statistical Agency, Mozambique Instituto Nacional de Estatística, Statistics Canada
      Use to locate these national statistical agencies.

International Organizations

  • May be free or subscription/fee based
  • Data format varies widely
  • Collected through research to help aid policy decisions
  • Examples:
    • International Government Organizations (IGOs): United Nations, World Health Organization, OECD, World Bank
    • International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs): Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières

Data Archives

  • Often includes data collected by individual scholar/researchers
  • Maybe be fee/subsription based
  • Examples: ICPSR, Roper

Business & Trade

  • Usually proprietary, requiring subscription if available outside a company
  • Examples: Market research, industry-wide statistics, individual company financial data

Don't ignore the scholarly literature (books & articles). Bibliographies and existing research may help you identify what types of data are available, and where to access them.

Using Statistical Data

Statistics provide the numbers with which to understand the demographics of your community & to support an argument. You may want to start by searching the Department of City Planning site for a community profile. You can then find more detailed information about your community by searching American Factfinder by zip code. A source like ProQuest Statistical Abstract will provide you with national numbers that can help to provide a larger context. All of these sites and the others listed below have many features. Play around and ask a librarian if you need any help.

Sources for New York Statistical Data

NYC Zip Code Chart

Need Help?

Try out our special library tutorial, just for this class:

Identifying Vulnerable Communities

Check our Statistics Research Guide

Scholarly Articles

ProQuest Statistical Abstract