MSc International Disaster Management / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
A Critical Introduction to GIS and Disasters

Unit code HCRI60072
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
Offered by Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute
Available as a free choice unit? No


As an integrating discipline, Geography and the study of spatial patterns and relationships of phenomena on the earth, including people, places and the environment, can help us best answer the global questions of our time. Geographic information systems (GIS) are computer systems for capturing, storing, checking, analysing, displaying and sharing data related to positions on Earth's surface. GIS and the analysis of spatial data has broad application to many fields, such as environmental management, urban studies and planning, business, the government sector, as well as disaster management. Today more than ever we need innovative approaches to understanding, analysing and managing hazards, risk, and vulnerabilities to reduce the loss of lives and other negative impacts of disasters.


In this course students will be exposed to a range of transferrable GIS techniques and analysis tools and will learn how to apply these to various disaster management tasks, such as mapping vulnerability using census data, or modelling risk using meteorological and other physical geography data. Students will learn important cartographic principles and develop their own GIS maps. In addition to the practical components, the course will develop theoretical understandings and critically consider the appropriateness and implications of GIS approaches and map making.


The course aims to:

  • Develop an understanding of spatial data and its analysis
  • Develop spatial problem-solving abilities and practical skills in GIS analysis and cartography
  • Explore a broad set of applications of spatial data and GIS for crisis management and disaster risk reduction
  • Critically reflect on the power, usefulness, and limitations of GIS and spatial data broadly and in disaster management


Knowledge and understanding

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Different types of spatial data and how they are developed and analysed
  • Current and potential applications of spatial data and GIS in disaster management
  • Spatial analysis as a mechanism for assessing hazard risk and vulnerability
  • The implications of GIS, including the power of maps to persuade, digital divides and unequal access to spatial information, contemporary trends and changing practices

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 geography on different approaches to analysing and managing disasters
  • Critically analyse the role of GIS and mapping in disaster management, and the underpinning theories

Practical skills

  • Conduct a range of analyses on both vector and raster datasets
  • Combine multiple data to address real world problems
  • Cartography skills and the design and production of a thematic map poster
  • Research skills, including planning, prioritisation of tasks, identification and location of sources, critical evaluation of findings.
  • Essay-writing skills related to the analysis of a specific question, construction of arguments, assessment and deployment of evidence, writing style.
  • Participation in online and in-class discussions

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Spatial data analysis and interpretation skills.
  • Experience in preparing GIS maps of the same kind that may be used in academia, policy development, or the professional sector.
  • Critical thinking, research and project management skills
  • Skills to help them interpret current and future disaster risk and vulnerability
  • Ethical awareness


Employability skills

¿ Professional knowledge and skills: GIS and spatial data analysis (ESRI ArcGIS in particular) ¿ Problem solving skills ¿ Communication skills ¿ Ability to work independently ¿ Time management ¿ Reporting of scientific data/analyses

Assessment methods

Thematic map 50%
Essay 50%


Feedback methods

  • Informal guidance through workshop discussions
  • Informal oral feedback in drop-in sessions throughout semester
  • Written feedback on the thematic map (mid-to-late semester) and essay (at the end of the course)
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

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.

Büchele, B., Kreibich, H., Kron, A., Thieken, A., Ihringer, J., Oberle, P., Merz, B., and Nestmann, F. (2006). Flood-risk mapping: contributions towards an enhanced assessment of extreme events and associated risks, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 6: 485-503.

Cutter, S. (2003). GIScience, disasters, and emergency management. Transactions in GIS, 7(4): 439–445. Esri (2017). Emergency and Disaster Management. Webpage. Accessed 24 September, 2017 at

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. (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.


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.


Longley, P.A., Goodchild, M., Maguire, D.J. & Rhind, D.W. (2010). Geographic Information Systems and Science: 3rd edition. New York: Wiley.


Monmonier, M. (2005). Lying with maps. Statistical Science, 20(3): 215-222.


Tomaszewski, B. (2014). Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management. CRC Press. 310 pages.


Tran, P., Shaw, R., Chantry, G. & Norton, J. (2009). GIS and local knowledge in disaster management: a case study of flood risk mapping in Viet Nam. Disasters, 33(1): 152-169.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Billy Haworth Unit coordinator

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