Natural Catastrophes

International Graduate Summer Course 2011

Course outline

The course is held in the wake of large scale earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, glacial bursts, flooding and glacier retreat in South Iceland, providing a perfect full-scale laboratory for studies of natural hazards and how they threaten communities. Part of the course is to evaluate actual risks and learn from community members how to face such risks and how to deal with the consequences.

Practical information

  • The course will be offered to international and domestic students
  • The course will be held in Selfoss and the studies will be carried out in  the South Iceland region
  • The students will be provided accommodation  in Selfoss,
  • Students register at the Office of International Education, University of Iceland
  • The course is 7.5 ECTS
  • This course is geared towards engineers, geologists, and environmentalists and other in fields of natural processes and impact on the built environment. The course also welcomes people from social sciences and other disciplines who would like to learn more about natural catastrophes. A BSc or BA is a minimum requirement.
  • The “Earthquake Engineering Research Center” (Rannsóknarmiðstöðin í jarðskjálftaverkfræði) will supervise the overall programme and is responsible for the course content and academic requirements
  • The “University Centre of South Iceland” (Háskólafélag Suðurlands) will coordinate  activities with  other research institutions in South Iceland and  be responsible for the external finances of the programme.
  • The fee for each course is 1.390 euros/student (first estimate), including accommodation, course material, access to required software, excursions etc.
  • Courses will be taught in English and English proficiency is required.


The course goal is for students to gain an overview of natural hazards, community impact and disaster management and skills to conduct basic risk assessments and provide input into disaster response action planning.


The key objects are for the students to have an understanding of:

  • The disaster management cycle and associated stakeholders
  • Natural processes and natural hazards
  • Disaster risk
  • Disaster response

Have the ability to:

  • Explain the elements of risk management and associated coordination procedures
  • Identify appropriate information for risk assessments
  • Measure and map natural hazards
  • Outline the basic principles of planning and design of built-up areas and critical infrastructures in hazard prone areas.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in simulated real-time risk analysis

Course Content

The course content includes:

  • A comprehensive version of the disaster management cycle (The 8 spoke spiral: risk analysis, mitigation, preparedness, event, rescue, relief, recovery and review)
  • Natural processes (e.g. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, violent storms, hurricanes, floods, landslides and avalanche), global geographic regions at risk, secondary hazards, links with other natural processes, natural service functions and human interaction with these events.
  • Mathematical description of natural hazards, e.g. return periods and statistics of rare events.
  • Measuring, mapping and comparing natural hazards and disasters for risk assessment, analysis, and management purposes.
  • Damaging effects of natural processes on the built environment and general consequences.
  • Past, current and possible disasters in small and large communities
  • Key institutions and documents, e.g. the Hyogo Framework for Action.
  • Common terminology and UN definitions related to natural disasters
  • Project coordination for natural disaster risk management
  • Risk-based planning and design.

Basic information

Course Number: UMV114F
Faculty/Unit: Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Credits: 7.5 credits
Min. grade: 6.0 (out of 10)
Type: Course
Level: Graduate
Semester: Summer
Academic Year: 2010-2011
Duration: 3 weeks
Dates: 30 May  – 18 June 2011


Supervisor: Ragnar Sigbjörnsson, Professor.
Instructor: Sólveig Thorvaldsdóttir, PhD Candidate.

Instructor information:
Solveig Thorvaldsdottir has a degree in civil engineering from the University of Iceland, a master’s degree in earthquake engineering from the Johns Hopkins University, USA, and is currently working towards her PhD degree at the Earthquake Engineering Research Centre of the University of Iceland, in collaboration with Lund University in Sweden.

Solveig has extensive work experience. She has worked as a construction engineer in Iceland and later in disaster research and modelling in the USA. Subsequently, she crossed over into disaster management to head the National Civil Protection Agency in Iceland for seven years. Solveig has deployed to disasters around the world as a member of a United Nations coordination team (UNDAC), Red Cross coordination team (FACT) and with urban search and rescue (USAR) teams. She is a member of the Icelandic International USAR team. In the capacity of Rainrace, her consulting service, she has developed and taught many courses on disaster related issues in various countries, including Sweden, Pakistan, Slovenia and the Czech Republic (full CV can be found on her EERC-webpage).

Finally, Solveig is profiled in the latest edition of the course book (see Reading material below), which also portrays the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in South Iceland on its cover. The volcano erupted in early spring 2010 and can be seen from Selfoss (75 km away), the location of this graduate course.

Preceding Courses / Prerequisites

An undergraduate university degree (B.S., B.Sc., B.A. etc) is required.


Students will receive a grade for the course upon completion. The grade will be constructed from the evaluation of student projects, class participation and a final test.

Reading material

Edward A. Keller, Duane E. DeVecchio & Robert H. Blodgett (2011). Natural Hazards: Earth’s Processes as Hazards, Disasters, and Catastrophes, 3rd Edition, Prentice Hall, 2011.

Course book for Natural Catastrophes, 30 May - 18 June 2011 in Iceland Cover page of the course book: Natural Hazards, 3rd Edition 2011, by Keller, DeVecchio & Blodgett, depicting a scene from South Iceland during the recent volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.


Other reading material

As supplied by the instructor during the course.

Special Comments

The course is taught in English. Students must be able to demonstrate English proficiency, both written and verbal.

The minimum number of students is 15 for the course to be held.