11.941 | Spring 2005 | Graduate

Disaster, Vulnerability and Resilience


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

In recent years, the redistribution of risk has created conditions for natural and technological disasters to become more widespread, more difficult to manage, and more discriminatory in their effects. Policy and planning decision-makers frequently focus on the impact that human settlement patterns, land use decisions, and risky technologies can have on vulnerable populations. However, to ensure safety and promote equity, they also must be familiar with the social and political dynamics that are present at each stage of the disaster management cycle. Therefore, this course will provide students with:

  1. An understanding of the breadth of factors that give rise to disaster vulnerability; and

  2. A foundation for assessing and managing the social and political processes associated with disaster policy and planning.

This course is designed for people interested in disasters from a research or policy perspective and for those who may be charged with responsibility for on-the-scene intervention. The semester will begin with an overview of risk, vulnerability, resilience and then focus on disaster institutions, policy, and politics. We will conclude by examining organizational and individual behavior in high-stress situations. Throughout the semester, particular attention will be paid to how disaster management efforts can increase the vulnerability of some populations or can promote widespread resilience.

Course Assignments

Reaction Papers

You are required to write brief (not more than one-page) reaction papers on the readings each week and post them before each class. Reaction papers will not be graded, but they count towards your final grade.

Class Participation

This course is oriented around guest speaker presentations. It is expected that you will come to class prepared to engage the speakers and to actively reflect and assess course readings in small group discussions. To facilitate discussion, class participation also includes the requirement that before each class you read at least three reaction papers posted by other students.

Term Paper(s)/Project

You have the option to submit either a single term paper or two short papers. In either case, your work should examine a topic of personal interest that is related to the social or political dynamics of disasters.


Reaction Papers 25%
Class Participation 25%
Term Paper(s)/Project 50%

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2005
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples