Why Plan A Retirement Community In A Lahar Zone? Designing A Project-based Geohazards Course In Collaboration With The County Office Of Emergency Management

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Abstracts With Programs - Geological Society Of America




Hurricane Katrina and other recent high-profile natural disasters have illustrated the need to improve public understanding of not only the causes and effects of geohazards, but also of the mechanisms by which communities and individuals seek to prepare for and respond to these events. Working in collaboration with our county Office of Emergency Management (OEM), 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 OEM 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, daycare center, 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 identifies the potential hazards using OEM hazard maps. Most teams also 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 document, which specifies for each type of hazard the guidelines (e.g., setbacks, occupancy limits) that must be followed during development. In phase three the teams plan their developments, adhering to the relevant guidelines and commonly visiting existing properties of a similar nature 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 and an awareness of the complexity of preparing for natural disasters. Although our course focuses on hazards relevant to the Pacific Northwest, a similar format adapted to different hazards could be used in other areas of the country.









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