BSc International Disaster Management & Humanitarian Response

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Geographic Information Systems and Disasters: A Critical Introduction

Unit code HCRI30211
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Please note that this unit is delivered online.

Geographic information systems (GIS) are computer systems for capturing, storing, analysing, displaying and sharing data related to positions on Earth's surface. GIS and the analysis of spatial data has application to many fields, such as environmental management, urban planning, business, government, as well as disaster management. Today more than ever we need innovative approaches to understanding and managing hazards, risk, and vulnerabilities to reduce negative disaster impacts. 

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.


BSc International Disaster Management & Humanitarian Response


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

Teaching and learning methods

Please note that this unit is delivered online.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

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 GIS maps
• Research skills, including planning, prioritisation of tasks, identification and location of sources, critical evaluation of findings
• Communicating analysis results in the form of a written scientific reportscientific poster 
• 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

Midterm quiz and participation in online discussion boards


Thematic map poster




Essay plans




Feedback methods

Informal oral feedback during class/labs


Written feedback on poster, returned to students according to SALC guidelines and time limits, using a bespoke rubric

Formative / summative

Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)


Blackboard discussion forum


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.

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

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.

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

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

Ntajal, J., Lamptey, B. L., Mahamadou, I. B., & Nyarko, B. K. (2017). Flood disaster risk mapping in the lower Mono river basin in Togo, West Africa. International journal of disaster risk reduction, 23: 93-103.

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
Lectures 11
Practical classes & workshops 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Billy Haworth Unit coordinator

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