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Natural Hazards and Disasters

Corrie Neighbors, David Oglesby
University of California-Riverside
Author Profile

Summary


Natural Hazards and Disasters applies the basic principles of science to the recognition and analysis of natural hazards and the mitigation of related disasters. Students learn about the scientific causes and societal effects of fires, floods, winds, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis. There is an emphasis on confronting hazards of concern to home-buyers, developers, and planners in the western U.S., and especially southern California.

Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Format:
Lecture only

Course Context:

The course is predominately taken by non-science undergraduate majors (79% freshman and sophomores, on average) to help satisfy the science breadth requirements for students in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Scientists (CHASS). It is a high-enrollment course (450+ students) and offered at least once per year (during the regular school year and again in summer). This course is often the only science course that a CHASS student takes at UC, Riverside. Thus, it has a crucial role in educating future Californians not just on natural disasters, but on the practice and importance of science.

Course Content:

The course employs assignments that task students with exploring various natural hazards and disasters datasets. These assignments build successively throughout the quarter, such that at the end of the course students make a board-spectrum assessment of the risk to their home, similar to that conducted by insurance agencies. Students gather datasets of historic and current natural hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, and severe storms, typically in the form of paper or static maps found in the UCR Map Collections, government websites, and the course's WebGIS maps. By hand or with tools available on the course's WebGIS map page, students perform spatial analyses (e.g., proximity and slope) to assess the risk of each natural process to their residence. Students produce maps displaying the spatial data with appropriate map annotations (such as scale, legend, north arrow, and metadata) and discuss the risk of each hazard and preparedness and mitigation options.

Course Goals:

An important part of this course will be to demonstrate that natural hazards and disasters can be understood in a logical, scientific manner. Students will be able to apply the scientific concepts they have learned in lecture to real-world natural hazard situations. This process allows them to see the importance of science in daily life, as well as to learn important specific information that they can use to reduce the risk of natural disasters to their family and friends. In addition, they will be able to (1) read and interpret paper topographic maps, (2) gain insight into how natural hazard data is collected and communicated, (3) use a WebGIS, which allows for a unified interface in which to examine the risks of various hazards, greatly facilitating their understanding of how these complex phenomena relate to their house. With the WebGIS, students will be introduced to invaluable skills in modern GIS science, with applications far beyond this class. Ideally, students will gain an interest in GIS within this introductory class and be excited to take more advanced GIS courses; GIS skills are in demand in a wide array of academic, governmental, and private sector careers.

Course Features:

The most important aspect of the course is the multi-week, multi-hazard analysis homework assignments, which help students apply the scientific concepts they have learned in lecture to a real-world building structure. The WebGIS-based assignments are an excellent example of inquiry-based learning: students are given a specific question (e.g., evaluate the earthquake hazard at your house), and are steered toward the general data, provided at the course's WebGIS site, with which to answer this question (e.g., nearby plate boundaries and faults, historical earthquakes), but are tasked with determining the relative importance of each dataset and the resulting hazard. These homework assignments build toward a multi-part assignment, which we distinguish as a "final project", where students perform a cumulative quantitative risk assessment to their home, strengthening their understanding of real-world policies, such as insurance practices and government declarations of state of emergency.

Course Philosophy:

As is the course is primarily taken by non-science undergraduate majors, an important part of the course is to demonstrate that natural hazards and disasters can be understood in a logical, scientific manner, and that such an understanding can lead to the mitigation of their effects on humanity. This course is often the only science course that a CHASS student takes at UC, Riverside. Thus, it has a crucial role in educating our future Californians not just on natural disasters, but on the practice and importance of science. There is a particular focus on California hazards as most UC, Riverside students grew up in California. Students learn about the scientific causes and societal effects of fires, floods, winds, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis and then apply this foundation of knowledge to a board-spectrum assessment of the risk to their home, similar to that conducted by insurance agencies.

Assessment:

The homework assignments, predominantly WebGIS-based, task students to use spatial analysis tools (e.g., measurement tools) to determine the risk of natural hazards to their home by proximity to various hazardous natural processes, (e.g., seismic risk due to home being near a fault zone). By using GIS-based technology, students will immediately see the links between policy (here, insurance practices) and science, enhancing interdisciplinary learning, and enabling students to use similar tools as professionals and scientists. By its very nature, WebGIS meet the National Research Council (NRC)'s recommendations for effective learning, which include creating an environment that is learner-, knowledge-, assessment-, and community-centered. In addition to homework assignments, students also have midterms and a final exam, which require students to analyze, apply, and synthesize lecture and homework concepts and material. Approximate assessments of learning will be conducted by comparing student responses to key homework, exam, and course evaluation questions that can be used to gauge student comprehension of earth processes and understanding of spatial problems. These questions could be used to track (1) how much effort students put into the course, (2) relevance of the subject to the student, (3) satisfaction level, (4) performance, and (5) understanding.

Syllabus:

References and Notes:

Natural Disasters, Patrick Leon Abbott


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