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Natural Hazards & Disasters

Meredith Denton-Hedrick
Austin Community College
Author Profile


This course provides a survey of earth sciences through an examination of natural hazards. Consumers, voters, and decision-makers need to understand the impact of these hazards, how the hazards are changing due to climate change and increasing population, and the limitations that science and technology have in reducing their negative effects. Discussion focuses on personal and societal adjustments to these hazards.

Institution Type
Two Year College

Course Size


Grade Level
College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Course Context

This is a general survey course with minimal prerequisites in basic reading and math skills. This course does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses, and does not count towards a major in the geological sciences. The majority of students who take this course do so to satisfy a general science credit requirement. There is no lab associated with this class. Currently, this class has only been taught in a traditional face-to-face format. I would like to adapt it to be taught online.

Course Content

In this course we study the causes and effects of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, landslides, subsidence, hurricanes, coastal erosion, tornadoes, wildfires, climate change, and impacts of extraterrestrial events. For each topic, we focus on personal and societal adjustments to these hazards.

A key skill students develop is the ability to analyze and interpret data.

Course Goals

- Learn how earth processes affect and interact with our civilization, especially those that create hazards
- Learn basic principles of geology, meteorology, oceanography and solar system astronomy
- Review basic concepts of mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology as applied to natural hazards
- Develop an understanding of the methods scientists use to predict and assess the risk of natural hazards
- Become familiar with natural hazards that threaten Central Texas and ways to minimize the personal and societal consequences of these hazards


Discussions are only conducted in the classroom at this time. When I take this class online, we will engage in threaded discussions. The discussions for each module will be open only for a specified length of time. Students will be expected to participate in discussions for all of the modules of the class.


Currently, student learning is assessed with three in-class examinations, several quizzes, and assigned exercises. When the class goes online, I will add assessment of their participate in discussions based on quality of their contributions to the discussions.

Teaching Notes

Adaptations have been made that allow this course to be successful in an online environment

Activities will go from paper-based exercises to online, interactive exercises.

The most successful elements of this course are:

In this course, I show a lot of video clips, animations, and photographs of the impacts of natural hazards. Because we are dealing with dynamic processes, I find it much more effective to show these processes in action rather than just talking about them. I know the multimedia is effective because the students generally perform the best on test questions where the topic was covered in this way.

Recommendations for faculty who teach a course like this:


Natural Hazards & Disasters Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 105kB Jun15 10)
Natural Hazards & Disasters Course Schedule (Acrobat (PDF) 40kB Jun15 10)



Natural Hazards: Earth's Processes as Hazards, Disasters, and Catastrophes by Edward Keller and Robert Blodgett

Other References

I frequently photocopy articles in the news that relate to the topics we're covering in class. I find that relating the topics to current events helps engage the students and make the topics more real for them.

Natural Hazards and Disasters --Discussion  

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