Thomas A. Birkland  
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Disaster, Crisis and Emergency Management and Policy

Spring 2008 -- Wednesdays, 6:00 to 8:50.


Click here for the syllabus and reading schedule New: Updated February 11, 2008

Click here for the response paper schedule, links to the papers, and other materials.

This course is an introduction to policies intended to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the damage done by natural disasters, industrial accidents and intentional (terrorist) attacks in the United States. The costs posed by natural and technological hazards have always been high, and these issues, while relatively low on the public’s agenda, are continuing sources of challenge for public managers at all levels of government. The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States raised the specter of catastrophe in the United States and, for one of very few times in American history, raised emergency preparedness and management to a high level on the agenda, at least briefly.

Indeed, the September 11 attack caused the United States and state and local governments to reorganize and reorient their emergency management organizations and functions. At the same time, there is considerable evidence that many of the lessons learned in addressing natural hazards are applicable in the new homeland security era and, at the same time, have been ignored or forgotten as instant “experts” (what a colleague calls the "nine-twelvers") have sought to design systems to prevent terrorist attacks or to mitigate their effects. Much of this work has proceeded with little or no theoretical or practical foundation.

Hurricane Katrina revealed the price of ignoring what was known before, and the interesting (if disheartening) phenomenon of "unlearning" from disaster experience.

A key question we will consider this semester (for which there is no single answer) is whether and to what extent the all-hazards approach makes sense in a post-September 11 world. Indeed, one of the key themes of this course is whether and to what extent anything learned in the over 75 years of systematic social science research about natural hazards has an application to homeland security.

Readings will include books, articles, and case studies.


Useful Links

Materials from your instructor

The reference list I promised is here.



Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado

Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware

Hazards Reduction and Recovery Center, Texas A&M

Center for Natural Hazards Research, East Carolina University


Federal Emergency Management Agency

National Hurricane Center (NOAA)

N.C. Division of Emergency Management

Private and Nonprofit

National Fire Protection Association

Institute for Building and Home Safety

Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI)

American Red Cross