The United States as well as nations throughout the world increasingly face the threat of significant natural disasters that include hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and fires. Hurricane Katrina clearly identified the massive consequences of a failure to adequately prepare for a natural disaster – over a thousand deaths and $100 billion in damages. Society has developed structural (engineering) and nonstructural methods of mitigating the losses from natural disasters but for a variety of reasons has not successfully implemented such strategies. Climate variability, competing local and national priorities, short term political actions and long term needs and policies that lack flexibility all complicate the process. New science and technology, advancing methods for systems approaches, both in the political and engineering domains, and the emergence of new risk assessment methodologies offer pathways to solutions.
The course will examine the nature of natural hazards faced in the United States and in other countries, the risks involved with these hazards, the strategies and tools that might be employed to deal with them, and the challenges faced by engineers, scientists and public policy personnel in developing and carrying out mitigation strategies. The first part of the course will look at each of the natural disaster types, their causes and our ability to deal with these disasters. We will examine what went wrong during Hurricane Katrina and what general lessons can be learned from that experience. Based on our look at the common elements found among disasters, we will develop a framework to examine specific events. Throughout the course, we will collectively dig into a wide variety of recent natural disasters and their consequences and attempt to determine what could have been done to reduce the impact of these disasters.
• Student grades will be based on 1) a midterm exam covering the general background information on the first part of the course, 2) short presentations by students on their examination of recent natural disasters, 3) classroom participation, and 4) a final paper analyzing a selected natural disaster that will include recommendations to decision-makers for actions that might be taken to prevent recurrence of the significant impacts of the selected disaster
Readings will be taken from contemporary documents concerning natural disasters including federal and state after action reports, media coverage of disaster events, and thought pieces from individuals currently involved with the natural disaster field.