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

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Systemic Approaches to Disaster Management

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI30222
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Despite the massive knowledge accumulated about disasters, this knowledge is mostly descriptive. There is a gap in adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to disaster management that makes use of management science and operational research to facilitate decision-making and problem solving in the disaster literature. This module introduces a management and soft operations perspective of disaster management. It equips students with theory, methodologies, techniques and tools that facilitates problem solving and analysis in highly complex and uncertain contexts. Students will appreciate the difference between complicated and complex problems, and the inter-connectivity and mutual influence of communities and organisations as part of a wider environment. Students are expected to develop their decision-making, management, and modelling skills.


  • Introduce students to systems-thinking theories as a way to analyse, understand, and make decisions before and during disasters.
  • Develop students’ problem solving, decision-making and analytical skills.
  • Deepen students’ understanding of the complex operational problems that face disaster responders.
  • Provide the students with practical experience of how to use their system thinking knowledge in analysing complex problems.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectorials: Involve one or more teaching methods (lectures, seminars, workshops, and roleplays) in each session.

Teamwork and group discussions using systemic methods (e.g. rich pictures and affinity diagrams).

Case study analysis

Interactive exercises and roleplay simulations

Teamwork - Roleplay

Knowledge and understanding

  • Be able to critically, systemically, and systematically analyse complex problems.
  • Obtain an inclusive and holistic perspective to understanding and analysing social problems.
  • Appreciate the importance of multi-disciplinary approaches in solving complex problems.
  • Improve teamwork skills by working on mini group projects.
  • Obtain different decision-making and problem-solving tools that can be used in professional contexts.


Intellectual skills


  • Critical and analytical skills.
  • Holistic and in-depth analysis of complex and dynamic problems and situations.
  • Systematic and robust decision making.
  • Innovative, creative, and strategic thinking.
  • Qualitative analysis through exercises and activities.
  • Ability to refer to literatures from different disciplines to solve problems.

Practical skills

  • Ability to work in teams to analyse and solve problems.
  • Written and presentation skills.
  • Ability to implement a variety of decision-making tools in different contexts.
  • Qualitative analysis

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Analytical and critical skills.
  • Teamwork
  • Appreciation of others’ perspectives.
  • Ability to use a range of problem-solving tools and models.
  • Written and presentational skills.

Employability skills

- Reporting skills. - Experience how problem-solving workshops and meetings are facilitated. - Appreciation of a bottom-up management approach. - Holistic perspective to problems. - Strategic skills by analysing the feasibility of management decisions from an operational perspective. - Understand and analyse organisational structures. - Ability to use a range of problem-solving tools and models.

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Feedback from observation during activities, simulations and presentations.



Group Presentation



Reflective Piece



Written Essay





Feedback methods

 Feedback method

 Formative or Summative

 Mid-course student evaluation of learning – verbal feedback in tutorials (individual and group)







Recommended reading

Below is a sample of reading assignments for the course.

Simonovic, S. P. (2011). Systems Approach to Management of Disasters: Methods and Applications. Wiley.

Altay, N., & Green, W. G. (2006). OR/MS research in disaster operations management. European Journal of Operational Research, 175(1), 475–493.

Reissberg, A. C. (2012). Managing Natural Catastrophies: Viable Systems to prevent human tragedy-the Hawai’ian example. Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag Gmbh.

Preece, G., Shaw, D., & Hayashi, H. (2015). Application of the Viable System Model to analyse communications structures: A case study of disaster response in Japan. European Journal of Operational Research, 243, 312–322.

Checkland, P. (1993). Systems thinking, systems practice. In Systems Thinking, System Practice: Includes a 30-year retrospective (p. i–xiv, 3-330). Chichester: John Wiley.

Cooke, D. L. (2003), A system dynamics analysis of the Westray mine disaster. Syst. Dyn. Rev., 19: 139-166. doi:10.1002/sdr.268

Pidd, M. (2009). Tools for Thinking: Modelling in Management Science (3rd ed.). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Hollnagel, E. (2015). Disaster Management, Control, and Resilience. In A. Masys (Ed.), Disaster Management Enabling Resilience. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Powell, J. H., Mustafee, N., Chen, A. S., & Hammond, M. (2016). System-focused risk identification and assessment for disaster preparedness: Dynamic threat analysis. European Journal of Operational Research, 254(2), 550–564.

Weaver, M. W., Crossan, K., Tan, H. B., & Paxton, S. E. (2018). A systems approach to understanding the perspectives in the changing landscape of responsible business in Scotland. European Journal of Operational Research, 268(3), 1149–1167.

Kreps, G. A., & Bosworth, S. L. (2007). Organizational Adaptation to Disaster. In H. Rodriguez, E. L. Quarantelli, & R. R. Dynes (Eds.), Handbook of Disaster Research (pp. 297–315). New York: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

Holling, C. S. (2001). Understanding the complexity of economic, ecological, and social systems. Ecosystems, 4(5), 390–405.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ayham Fattoum Unit coordinator

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