Collaborating With The County Department Of Emergency Management To 'develop' A Project-based Geohazards Course

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Abstracts With Programs - Geological Society Of America




Recent natural disasters have highlighted the need to improve public awareness of: (1) the causes and phenomena associated with geohazards, and (2) the mechanisms by which communities and individuals prepare for and respond to these events. Working in collaboration with Pierce County Department of Emergency Management (PCDEM), we have developed an introductory-level, non-majors, non-lab course that addresses both of these topics. The central element of the course is a semester-long project in which students (in teams of six) are assigned a parcel of real estate to develop. All parcels, chosen in consultation with PCDEM planners, are in areas identified as being "at risk" from one or more natural hazards including floods, slope failures, lahars, and/or earthquakes. We specify the type of development for each parcel (e.g., big box retail, retirement home, mobile home park, etc.). The project has four main phases; in phase one each team determines the nature of its parcel (size, slope, etc.) and examines PCDEM hazard maps to identify any potential hazards. The teams generally make a site visit, but most of the necessary information is available on the web or is posted on the course website. In phase two the students consult the County's Critical Area Regulations, the part of the County's Comprehensive Plan that outlines development regulations in hazard areas (e.g., setbacks, occupancy limits). In phase three the teams plan their developments, adhering to the relevant guidelines and often visiting existing properties to gather information on parking requirements and other design considerations. In the final phase each team conducts a risk assessment (using a form developed by the county) and then develops a mitigation strategy (e.g., evacuation routes, public education) following FEMA guidelines (also available on the Web). By the end of the project, which culminates in a written report and formal presentation, students have an appreciation of the role of science in hazard mitigation, of the complexity of preparing for natural disasters, and of the ways and extent to which the science of natural hazards informs land use policy. Our course focuses on hazards relevant to the Pacific Northwest, but a similar format with different hazards could be used in other areas of the country.









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