Natural Disasters

Anna Tary

Bentley College (Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate)


This course introduces the concept of natural physical processes as disasters in which members of a society are harmed. Examines the origins, prediction/forecasting, effects, and mitigation efforts of some commonly known natural hazards in the world such as volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, floods and severe weather, each of which is discussed in both a scientific and sociologic context, using case studies where possible.

Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Context:

This course is what I call "pre-introductory" in that it teaches some primary concepts associated with the topics in a real-world applications style (science and socioeconomics combined). The course presently can be used only to satisfy an arts & sciences elective, or can be used to satisfy a requirement for an "Environmental Risk" Liberal Studies Major (which is a pilot program offering liberal studies concentrations to students as a second major to complement their primary business major). The course is communication intensive (writing and presenting), and is primarily (>60%) taken by seniors (as they feel it should be "an easy A"), but was designed to be of an introductory level such that it would appeal to freshman, and bring them into teh sciences early.

Course Goals:

1. Students should be able to identify and explain the interactions of various earth systems as they relate to natural hazards.
2. Students should be able to predict the various hazards inherent in various plate tectonic and geomorphic settings.
3. Students should be able to use knowledge learned and map-reading skills to interpret and analyze various home locations (both in the larger regional sense and in the local setting) as suitable or desirable.
4. Students should acquire critical analysis skills that will help them to accept or reject Web site information and determine the validity of science presented in the modern press. (Scientific scepticism.)
5. Students will be given the opportunity to improve their writing skills and/or to home their oral presentation skills.
6. Students will, hopefully, improve their awareness of, and interest in, the world around them and the involvement of geology and the Earth in that frame of reference.
7. Build student empathy and understanding for those who have been affected by disasters worldwide.


Assessments are based on: quizzes, which test both memorization of facts and ability to analyze data and examples; writing and oral presentations (assessing both technical skills and ability to persuavively argue or defend a point; and on lab exercises and homeworks (whether students fully invest themselves in their work and can intelligently and rationally argue points is highest order work on homeworks, properly applying techniques and information in exercises is key in labs).


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 40kB Jun23 06)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

"Natural Hazards," 2006, Keller & Blodgett: Prentice-Hall

Many web resources are used, including those of USGS, FEMA, NPR, CNN, etc.