12.103 | Spring 2010 | Undergraduate

Science and Policy of Natural Hazards


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week, 1 hour / session


This course examines the science of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes and explores the relationships between the science of and policy toward such hazards. It presents the causes and effects of these phenomena, discusses their predictability, and examines how this knowledge influences policy making. This course includes intensive practice in the writing and presentation of scientific research and summaries for policy makers.


Four categories of hazards were investigated in this class, as part of the following modules:

Module 1 (8 classes): Earthquakes 
Module 2 (9 classes): Hurricanes 
Module 3 (9 classes): Volcanoes 
Module 4 (8 classes): Tornadoes and severe weather

The following aspects of each hazard category (when applicable) were addressed:

  1. Phenomenology
  2. Physics
  3. Forecasting
  4. Economics
  5. Hazard risk assessment
  6. Mitigation
  7. Adaptation
  8. Public Policy
    • Building codes
    • Insurance regulation
    • Federal insurance
    • Evacuation
    • Reconstruction

Term Project

The term project has two primary purposes: to demonstrate that you have acquired some of the scientific skills needed to understand natural hazards and provide useful information to professionals charged with developing policies and handling emergencies related to natural hazards, and to demonstrate that you are skillful in communicating scientific information. To this end, students were asked to provide a comprehensive assessment of a particular hazard at a particular location.


Problem sets 50%
Term project
Scientific content 30%
Communication skills 20%

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Lecture Notes