This survey course provides a graduate level introduction to the broad fields of study associated with natural hazards and disasters. Emphasis is placed on gaining an understanding of the defining characteristics of natural hazards and how their effects on human settlements can lead to a series of issues that help us understand what defines a disaster. This course introduces students to a range of topics including meteorology, geology, hydrology, engineering and building performance, policy making, planning, and sociology, among other disciplines.

Given the introductory nature of the course material, no class prerequisites are required other than that a student must be enrolled in a graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, or Duke University. Undergraduate students can petition to take the class subject to the instructor’s approval and availability of remaining seats.

The course is framed using concepts of sustainable development and disaster resilience, including those pre- and post-disaster conditions and actions that enhance or hinder these aims. Emphasis is placed on the use of case studies of past disasters to help students understand the physical characteristics of natural hazards and how they led to the disaster in question. The course is also intended to explain how planning plays an important role in the larger issue of natural hazards risk management, including our ability to adapt to a changing climate and create more sustainable, disaster resilient communities.