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GEOG208 Natural Disasters: Risk, Response and Resilience ,GEOG306 Extreme Earth: Natural Hazards, Risk and Vulnerability

Unit rationale, description and aim

An understanding of natural disasters is now critical knowledge for many graduates and professionals. We are all at risk from natural hazards, and the physical, economic, social impacts of disasters create enormous challenges for society. As the global population increases and our physical and urban environments rapidly change, so too does the risk of natural disasters. Natural disasters cause enormous economic damage and human suffering, with more than 8 million deaths across the world in the last century and billions of dollars of damage in Australia alone.

In this unit students will examine the risks posed by natural hazards through an understanding of the causes and impacts of the most significant natural hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tropical cyclones, tsunami and bushfires. This unit is part of ACU’s Geography and the Environment sequence and is also an important elective unit for students across other disciplines and degrees, such as International Development Studies, Global Studies, Social Work, Public Health, and Business and Law, where an understanding of the causes and consequences of disasters is needed. University training and skills in natural hazards is highly valued for careers in education, insurance and health sectors, geography and environment management, the emergency services, the business and law sectors, politics, and international relations, and in disaster management and international development organisations.

The aim of this unit is to enable students to understand the nature, location, risk and mitigation of natural hazards in order to assist settlements, communities, businesses and governments to mitigate the impacts of disasters and to build disaster resilience.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the origin and nature of natural hazards, including concepts of disaster magnitude and frequency of occurrence (GA4, GA5) 

LO2 - Summarise and explain strategies to minimise the risk posed by natural hazards and strategies to respond to disasters that occur (GA5, GA8) 

LO3 - Clearly communicate, by applying geographical language and research findings in verbal and written communication forms (GA9) 

LO4 - Analyse and interpret natural hazard information using a range of geographical and statistical approaches, as an individual and as the member of a team (GA5, GA8) 

LO5 - Evaluate the social and demographic factors which enable an environmental process to become a human disaster (GA2, GA4). 

Graduate attributes

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • What is a natural hazard? 
  • Risk, vulnerability and resilience: the economic and human toll of natural hazards 
  • Natural hazard impacts on global society throughout history 
  • Cities, urbanisation and disasters 
  • Coastal and maritime hazards 
  • Atmospheric hazards: storms, hail, lightening, tropical cyclones, heat waves 
  • Atmospheric-landscape hazards: bushfires, floods and droughts 
  • Geological hazards: earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami 
  • Disaster risk reduction (DRR): warning systems, communication and technologies for disaster preparedness 
  • Race, class, gender, ethnicity, and disaster vulnerability 
  • Natural Hazards and public health: disaster epidemiology and mapping health impacts 
  • Social, cultural and Indigenous framings of natural hazards 
  • From coordination to recovery: managing disasters 
  • Building disaster resilience into communities and settlements 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit will use both face-to-face and/or multimedia forms of instruction during class. The in-class lecture component is used to convey new material and offer students the chance to engage and ask questions in person. The tutorial portion of the course is to be used as a resource to offer students the opportunity to put their knowledge learned in lectures to use and gain hands-on experience and learn and practice geographical skills.

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. Attendance at tutorials is strongly encouraged to ensure that you learn the appropriate tools and techniques in natural hazard analysis required to successfully complete the assessments connected with this. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. The assessment strategy allows students to engage in a variety of tasks, each aligned to their own learning outcomes.

The first assessment is based around a series of skills-based tasks throughout the semester where students incrementally acquire and practice key skills in finding, using and interpreting real-world natural hazard information. You will use these skills to answer short quizzes that begin to build your comprehension of the nature, frequency and magnitude of different natural hazards and the economic and human cost of disasters on society. The short quizzes will also test your understanding of key concepts you have learned from lectures and readings each week.

The second assessment in this unit is a research task with the findings presented as a written report. This task is an opportunity for students to analyse natural hazard risks from the perspective of an international organisation, and is modelled on Country Profile reporting used in many government and non-government organisations who need to understand and account for the impacts of natural hazards. This task requires students to communicate research findings in written form, analyse and interpret natural hazard information, and critically evaluate the social and demographic factors that enable environmental processes to become a human disaster in this country.

The third assessment is a critical review of current research being published in key natural hazards and disasters journals. In undertaking this assessment, students will further develop critical reading and writing skills, along with presentation skills, and will demonstrate an understanding of the origin and nature of environmental hazards and develop skills needed to critically evaluate the social and demographic factors of disasters, and clearly communicate in verbal formats as part of an in-class presentation.

To pass this unit, students are required to achieve an overall final grade of 50% (Pass). The assessment tasks for this unit are designed to demonstrate achievement of each learning outcome.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Tutorial tasks: exploring natural hazard phenomena and their impact on society in weekly online learning modules, students will discuss the origin and nature of natural hazards and discuss strategies to minimise natural hazard risk and disaster response, via LEO-based quizzes.


LO1, LO2, LO4

GA4, GA5, GA8

Research task: This task requires students to communicate research findings in written form, analyse and interpret natural hazard information, and critically evaluate the social and demographic factors which enable an environmental process to become human disaster


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO5

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Analyse and critique: Students will complete a critical review on a natural hazards-related academic journal article and present their findings as a presentation


LO3, LO4, LO5

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Bankoff, G. and Frerks, G. 2013. Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People. Routledge, London.

Downey, D.C. 2021. Disasters and Economic Recovery. Routledge.

Fekete, A. and Fiedrich, F. 2018. Urban Disaster Resilience and Security. Springer.

Goff, J and de Freitas, C.R. 2018. Natural Hazards in Australasia. Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Keller, E.A. and Devecchio, D.E. 2019. Natural Hazards: Earth's Processes as Hazards, Disasters, and Catastrophes (5th Edition). Prentice Hall, London. 

Kelman, I et al. (Eds.). 2017. The Routledge Handbook of Disaster Risk Reduction Including Climate Change Adaptation. Routledge, London.

Kinnvall, C. and Rydstrom, H. eds., 2019. Climate hazards, disasters, and gender ramifications. Routledge.

Shaw, R., Sharma, A. and Takeuchi, Y., 2009. Indigenous knowledge and disaster risk reduction: From practice to policy. Nova Science Publishers, Inc..

Van Bavel, B., Curtis, D., Dijkman, J., Hannaford, M., De Keyzer, M., Van Onacker, E. and Soens, T., 2020. Disasters and History: The Vulnerability and Resilience of Past Societies. Cambridge University Press

World Bank and United Nations, 2010. Natural hazards, unnatural disasters: the economics of effective prevention. The World Bank.

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