Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


MIT students were required to obtain permission from the instructor.


Year after year we witness earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, and blizzards. And, these events seem to be happening more frequently. We are aware of slow-cooking human disasters on the horizon such as sea level rise, glacier melting, and extreme weather patterns attributed to climate change.

Disasters can be the result of natural phenomenon (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, landslides, hurricanes, and other natural events) human error (BP oil spill), disease (Ebola in Africa/Cholera in Haiti) and, more frequently, conflict and terrorism (Boston Marathon Bombing). We can look to the tsunami disasters in Japan and Banda Ache, the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the hurricanes of Katrina and Rita in the US city of New Orleans for examples of disasters that have leveled cities and brought about rethinking and massive replanning efforts. What lessons have we learned about our abilities to pre-plan, respond, and our abilities to offer sustainable, capacity-building approaches? What do we know about response, planning and assessment?

This class is designed to expose you to the cycles of disasters, the roots of emergency planning in the U.S., how to understand and map vulnerabilities, and expose you to the disaster planning in different contexts, including in developing countries.

The overall objectives of this class are as follows:

  1. Understand the role of the various phases of disaster management and issues concerning planning and policies in these phases.
  2. Understand emergency management from a planning and policy perspective.
  3. Delineate the role of the federal, state, and local governments in disaster planning and policies.
  4. Expose the international context, roles, and various responses and responders.
  5. Define mitigation planning and policy strategies.
  6. Expose students to emergency management and related plans.
  7. Understand the factors affecting short and long-term recovery and rebuilding and the role of planners and policy-makers.
  8. Understand the factors that give rise to disaster vulnerabilities (e.g., natural, physical, social, economic, policies, and governance.)
  9. Understand the factors that give rise to different vulnerabilities and levels of community resilience.
  10. Knowledge and capabilities to assess and manage these vulnerabilities through disaster planning and policy-making.
  11. Data, methods, tools, including exposure to GIS techniques that can enhance vulnerability assessments and knowledge building.
  12. Competencies to use mapping in mitigation planning and response operations.


During the spring semester, the class will meet twice weekly. The first session of the week is 1–1/2 hours in length and is devoted to reviewing materials either through lecture, audio, or visual media. The second session of the week is also 1–1/2 hours and will sometimes be used for in-class work time, discussion and peer review of work products, and guest speakers. This schedule does not apply to the first two weeks of class, which will be focused on background materials.

This class includes a Spring Break workshop in Valparaíso, Chile in Week 7. Fieldwork and some class lectures will take place during this trip. A final report deliverable is due one week after the trip.

Class requirements include reading, ongoing assignments related to development of the project, active class participation, blogging, participation in the field trips, and active involvement in the class.

Attendance: Attendance is absolutely mandatory. Discussions and targeted presentations will form the heart of the class and determine the direction of exploration for you and the instructors alike. As a project-based course, we will introduce a number of tools that will allow you to explore the city in novel ways. This exploration and the path of the class as a whole will be dependent on your presence and participation.

Peer Review and Feedback: In addition, team members will be asked to provide critical feedback on report drafts, and visual presentations. Much learning happens when we subject our work to review and evaluation by our peers. Many times we cannot see the flaws or problems in our thinking because we are much too close to the material. Peer review and feedback will happen during class time.

Reading Assignments: All readings will be posted on the class website. It is essential that all reading be completed by the due date and comments, questions and thoughts be offered in class. For this reason, readings have been kept to a minimum so that students can review and digest material prior to class. Pop quizzes help ensure that students stay current with the material offered in the class.


Class Participation/Attendance 15%
Disaster Mitigation Plan Memo (draft and revision) 15%
Field Travel, Research and Report (draft and revision) 15%
Research Blog 20%
Posters/Presentations (draft and revision) 15%
Quizzes 10%
Final Report 10%

Final grades are based on a weighted average for the term. Grade cutoff points are as follows: A = 93–100% B+ = 87–89% C+ = 77–79% D+ = 67–69% A- = 90–92% B = 83–86% C = 73–76% D = 63–66% B- = 80–82% C- = 70–72% D- = 60–62% F = <60