MSc International Disaster Management

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Understanding Environmental Hazards

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI64402
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module seeks to understand how planning and fieldwork can improve our understanding of the environment to create dynamic solutions and ultimately reduce disaster risk. Natural systems are not stable when viewed over timescales of centuries and millennia. Over the last two million years the earth surface has experienced fluctuations and dramatic environmental changes. For the last 5,000 years, however, human impact on the environment has become so influential that it becomes difficult to separate natural process and human activity as agents of environmental change. In the past 200 years the change because of human impact has exposed the population to a variety of environmental hazards.  

This course will give students an understanding of past environmental change and seek to understand how global fluctuations in climate play a significant role in the development of our landscape, creating the conditions for disasters resulting from natural phenomena.  It will also seek to introduce major geological and hydrometeorological hazards and show how an understanding of the physical environment can play a role in adaptive capacity and governance through planning and field surveying as tools integral to disaster management. 


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Disaster Management - Theory and Application HCRI60141 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


The course aims to:

  • Develop an understanding of mechanism of global environmental change.
  • Develop an understanding of geological and hydrometeorological hazards within their environmental situation.
  • Understand the role of environmental planning process to manage environmental change sustainably.
  • Critically reflect on forms of hazard adaptation and mitigation and their relationship to managing disasters
  • Develop fieldwork skills applied to hazard assessment.


All topics are indicative examples:

Understanding global environmental change / Anthropocene.

Geological hazards part 1.

Geological hazards part 2 / cascading hazards / reducing hazards.

Hydrometeorological hazards. 

Climate change and tipping points / impact on environmental systems.

UK hazards / mapping hazards using ArcGIS online.

Managing environment change / Planning for environmental change / EIA.

Field work week – coastal hazards / management (EA talk) / methods.

Fieldwork week – fluvial /geological hazard environments / methods.

Fieldwork assessment task / write up and presentations.

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly 1hr lecture is followed by 1hr interactive activity.

Independent learning/reading.

Fieldwork activities.

One week using ArcGIS Online – but can use laptops for this.

Blackboard (e.g. discussions). 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand natural cycles in environmental systems / the implications of sudden changes. 
  • Developed understanding of geological and hydrometeorological hazards in locational contexts and the impact of environmental change.
  • Spatial analysis as a mechanism for assessing hazard risk and vulnerability (applied to the UK).
  • Critical understanding of management techniques employed to increase sustainable interaction with environment and manage environmental hazards.
  • Develop an understanding of field techniques to assess environmental hazards in the field, create hazard maps and understand the implications of management.

Intellectual skills

  • Identify and evaluate patterns and trends in spatial data.
  • Investigate dynamic phenomena through interrogation of spatial and temporal data.
  • Consider the influence of the physical environment and understand the impact of change on the human environments.
  • Critically analyse the links between geological and hydrometeorological hazards and understand causality in a multi-hazard environment.
  • Apply understanding of environmental principles / hazards in planning to reduce risk and increase sustainability.

Practical skills

  • Analysing environmental data (with simple statistics) / identifying trends / patterns.
  • Hazard assessment using maps / field data / secondary sources / constructing hazard maps.
  • Data collection in field environments.
  • Research skills, including planning, prioritisation of tasks, identification and location of sources, critical evaluation of findings.
  • Communicating analysis results in the form of map analysis.
  • Participation in online and in-class discussions.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Data analysis and interpretation skills. 
  • Experience in using GIS maps. 
  • Data collection and interpretation.
  • Critical thinking, research and project management skills.
  • Skills to help them interpret current and future hazard situations.
  • Assessing change (through applied management solutions to hazards).
  • Ethical awareness.

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


In class assessment tasks / quizzes and participation in group decision making



Fieldwork assessment



Decision making task




Feedback methods

Feedback Method

Formative or Summative

Informal oral feedback during class/labs


Written feedback hazard decision making exercise returned to students according to SALC guidelines and time limits, using a bespoke rubric (adapted from the HCRI mark scheme – but applicable to learning outcome of project).


Fieldwork – (formative) verbal fieldwork and guidance given during the course on fieldwork weeks and during fieldwork assessment task.  Summative feedback offered through a bespoke rubric adapted from HCRI mark scheme applicable to learning outcomes of assessment task).

Summative and Formative


Recommended reading

Brewer, C.A. (2006). Basic mapping principles for visualizing cancer data using geographic information systems (GIS). American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 30(2S): S25-S36.

Canevari-Luzardo, L., Bastide, J.,  Choutet, I., and Liverman, D. (2017) Using partial participatory GIS in vulnerability and disaster risk reduction in Grenada, Climate and Development, 9:2, 95-109, DOI: 10.1080/17565529.2015.1067593 

Cutter, S. (2003). GIScience, disasters, and emergency management. Transactions in GIS, 7(4): 439–445.

Dempsey, C. (2018) GIS Lounge at (Accessed September 2022)

Esri (2022) Disaster Response Programme Webpage.  Accessed September 2022 at 

Esri (2022) Emergency and disaster management webpage.  Accessed September 2022 at 

Gaillard, J.C., and Pangilinan, M.L.C.J.D. (2010). Participatory mapping for raising disaster risk awareness among the youth. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 18(3): 175-179.

Goodchild, M.F., & Glennon, J.A. (2010). Crowdsourcing geographic information for disaster response: A research frontier. International Journal of Digital Earth, 3(3): 231-241.

Haworth, B.T. (2018). Implications of volunteered geographic information for disaster management and GIScience: A more complex world of volunteered geography. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(1): 226-240. 

Kelman, I. (2020). Disaster by Choice. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Kwan, M-P. (2002). Is GIS for women? Reflections on the critical discourse in the 1990s. Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 9(3): 271-279.

Meier, P. (2012). Crisis mapping in action: how open source software and global volunteer networks are changing the world, one map at a time. Journal of Map and Geography Libraries, 8: 89–100.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 45
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 160

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martin Parham Unit coordinator

Return to course details