BSc International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response and Spanish / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

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

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI30211
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


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.


The course aims to:

  • Develop an understanding of spatial data and its analysis
  • Develop spatial problem-solving abilities and practical skills and cartography to include Google Earth Pro and QGIS
  • To use ArcGIS to create spatial analysis outputs for use in DRM
  • Critically reflect on the use of GIS in disaster management for different stakeholders

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
  • Develop skills in Google Earth Pro, QGIS and ArcGIS Online
  • 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

  • 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 (QGIs and ArcGIS online) Problem solving skills Communication skills Ability to work independently Time management Reporting of scientific data/analyses

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative

Weighting within unit (%)

Disaster Mapping Scenario Exercise



Practical Task Review




Resit Assessment

Assessment task

Disaster mapping scenario


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.

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.


Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martin Parham Unit coordinator

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