Natural Hazards: GEOG 240

Syllabus Spring 2017

MWF 12.00-12.50 pm, Monroe 240

Dr. Jackie Gallagher                                                                                        Office: Monroe 313

Email:                                                                    540-654-1493

Office Hours: M 10-12, 1-2; W 1-2, F 11-12 and by appointment

 Course Description

This course will be taught through a combination of lectures, slides, movies, discussions and assignments. There are three units to the course. During the first three weeks you will gain a theoretical background to the study of hazards – history and fundamental concepts. Subsequently, we will learn about specific hazard types, how and why they occur, how humans prepare for them and cope with their aftermath, including the secondary hazards or consequential events that may occur due to the initial disaster. For each hazard, we will examine human responses – what mitigation measures have been made, how policies have altered in the face of disaster, what social reactions result. Finally, we will tie our specific studies back to the theoretical during the last week of classes.

GEOG 240 is part two of the Natural Science general education sequence; the pre-requisite is GEOG 110: Introduction to Weather & Climate. Having gained an understanding of the nature of science and of the science of meteorology, this course specifically builds on severe weather events which may become natural disasters, and adds to them other hazards, for example as caused by tectonism and fire. The emphasis will continue to be on scientific methods and ways of thinking. As such, there is an emphasis on scientific inquiry.

Student Learning Outcomes for Natural Science General Education Requirement

Students will

  1. be able to describe the scientific methods that lead to scientific knowledge
  2. be able to report and display data collected, interpret experimental observations and construct explanatory scientific hypotheses
  3. be able to use theories and models as unifying principles that help us understand the natural world
  4. gain an appreciation for how the natural sciences are used to address real-world problems


  • Broadly, students will learn how geographers collect, analyze and use scientific data with respect to natural hazards, and thus how humans interact with their environment
  • Students will know something of the study of hazards, its history, trends and definitions
  • Students will know how and why places are hazardous, including the human geographic processes that put people at risk
  • Students will have an understanding of human nature and responses to disasters, which are often illogical, and how science can be applied in the face of such disturbance
  • By delving into a single event, students will understand what lead to a disaster and how humans reacted, and any consequences produced by this event
  • Students will understand how knowledge of physical processes has improved over time; how historical changes in understanding may be tracked through comprehension and mitigation of hazardous situations
  • How assessment of risk is integral to human nature and thereby influences our choices daily; how scientific knowledge may differ from social and political behavior
  • How scientific prediction of hazards, and likely the occurrence of major disasters, raises social, political, philosophical, and ethical issues that continue for years

Required text: A. Keller and D.E. DeVecchio, 2015: Natural Hazards; Earth’s Processes as Hazards, Disasters, and Catastrophes 4rd edition, Routledge.

Recommended text: Larson, 2000: Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, Vintage.

Email will be sent to UMW addresses. Please check your email regularly.

Canvas will be used for grades, readings and some assignments:

A UMW course blog will be used for discussion of current events as well as additional readings, images & news events that may help you understand the material addressed in class, and for study guides and other relevant information. Go to

Evaluation:                                                     Date:

Midterm exam:                        20%                 Friday 3 March, during class

Final exam:                              20%                 Monday May 1, 12.00-2.30 pm

Activities/Assignments:          25%                 throughout semester, some in-class

Isaac’s Storm readings:          10%                 Feb 10, Feb 17, Feb 24 during class

Case Study:                              15%                 decide by Feb 3; due Friday April 28 via Canvas

Current Events:                       10%                 completed throughout semester, by April 24

Final grades will be given using the following grading scheme:

Percent Grade   Percent Grade
93-100 % A 73-76.9 % C
90-92.9 % A- 70-72.9 % C-
87-89.9 % B+ 67-69.9 % D+
83-86.9 % B 60-66.9 % D
80-82.9 % B- <59.9% F
77-79.9 % C+

 Midterm grades will be considered unsatisfactory if they are below 70% using this weighting scheme.

 Late Assignments will lose 10% per day, so by 10 business days will be worth nothing

 Class Participation is essential for in-class activities (see schedule) and to help clarify your understanding on a topic; you are encouraged to ask questions and to respond to my informal questions in class. There is also an online discussion component to this class, in the Current Events Assignment (see below).

 Attendance is required in this class, and is directly related to good performance in exams. I appreciate being told beforehand of any known absence from class; use email or phone/voicemail to contact me.

The Honor Code will be followed. Written work that is handed in for a grade must be your own: please pledge accordingly. Reference materials must be appropriately cited and/or quoted. Students may discuss assignments with one another, but must complete the work individually.

Students with Disabilities: The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the University of Mary Washington as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities.  If you receive services through that office and require accommodations for this class, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodations.  I will hold any information you share with me in strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and have reasonable accommodation needs, I will be happy to help you contact them.  The office will require appropriate documentation of a disability.

Office of Disability Services                                       540-654-1266

401 Lee Hall                                                      

Isaac’s Storm is a recommended text about the hurricane that hit Galveston, TX in 1900. Readings will be provided; the class will be broken into groups and questions assigned to each group should be considered while doing the reading. We will then discuss aspects of the storm and response to it during class on three Fridays: Feb 10, Feb 17, and Feb 24.

Scenario Assignments comprise four situations in which you are given information and expected to use it to solve one or a series of problems, designed to strengthen your understanding of various topics. These will be assigned through Canvas on the dates indicated, and are due – also via Canvas – on the date indicated. Late assignments will not be accepted.

Case Study: You will assess a specific disaster as a case study, at least 4 years old. You will write a report that will fulfill certain criteria and must meet the guidelines provided, and you will provide a summary on the blog page. Two students will read your summary; you will read two other summaries and comment intelligently on them. I will assign disasters if you do not select one by the required date. I must approve all disasters for study! No two students may use the same disaster as a case study. Separate detailed instructions will be provided for this assignment.

Current Events Assignment: the goal of this assignment is to have students pay attention to current hazards and disasters THROUGHOUT THE SEMESTER! Students are required to post and/or comment at least 10 times on the hazards blog page before the deadline. Of course, you are welcome to blog more than ten times. More than two posts or comments made within the same week will not count. Quality of posts does count – I will assess them during the semester so students can see their progress. If you are adding new information, you must include a source – usually the web site for a news media outlet. A detailed description of this assignment appears on the blog,

Extra Credit Opportunities: I will give extra credit to any student who uses the Writing Center to improve their case study report, and to students who attend an hour at the Geography Symposium and email me a short description of what they heard. There may be other opportunities for extra credit during the semester: I’ll let you know!

Lecture Schedule

For each type of hazard, I will explain the natural process, and then look at disasters, human responses, mitigation and adaptation. Since we will follow the same format for each hazard, I haven’t written these details into the schedule – but that’s what we’ll do!

The material we cover will be presented in this order, as far as possible on these dates; but exact dates are tentative, depending on the individual semester; for example, I will shift focus to talk about any disasters that occur and may therefore alter dates of lectures.

18-Jan W Intro: syllabus, evaluation, expectations, assignments
20-Jan F History of the Study of Hazards Read History on Canvas: Pages
23-Jan M Definitions; history continued Definitions!
25-Jan W Chapter 1: fundamentals: science, risk Read Chapter 1
27-Jan F fundamentals: linkages, catastrophes, consequences
30-Jan M Complexity Paradigm Re-visited Read Complexity on Canvas: Pages
1-Feb W
3-Feb F Swiss Cheese Activity in Class! Select Case Study Topic!
6-Feb M The Atmosphere & Severe Weather Read Chapter 9
8-Feb W
10-Feb F Isaac’s Storm in-class discussion Read Isaac part 1
13-Feb M Tropical & Extra Tropical Cyclones Reach Chapter 10
15-Feb W
17-Feb F Isaac’s Storm in-class discussion Read Isaac part 2
20-Feb M Coastal Hazards Reach Chapter 11
22-Feb W
24-Feb F Isaac’s Storm in-class discussion Read Isaac part 3
27-Feb M Wildfire Read Chapter 13
1-Mar W Tropical Storm Assignment
3-Mar F Midterm Exam
Mar 6-8-10 Spring Break, No Classes
13-Mar M Plate Tectonics Read Chapter 2
15-Mar W
17-Mar F Wildfire Assignment
20-Mar M Earthquakes Read Chapter 3
22-Mar W
24-Mar F
27-Mar M Volcanoes Read Chapter 5
29-Mar W
31-Mar F Earthquake Assignment
3-Apr M Tsunami Read Chapter 4
5-Apr W
7-Apr F
10-Apr M Flooding Read Chapter 6
12-Apr W Extra Credit at Geog Symposium
14-Apr F
17-Apr M Mass Wasting Read Chapter 7
19-Apr W
21-Apr F Flood Assignment
24-Apr M Jigsaw Exercise: Mount Rainier Final Current Events posting
26-Apr W
28-Apr F Case Study & Summary post
1-May M 12.00-2.30 pm Final Exam Case Study Comments due 5/5