Natural Disaster Management

International Graduate Summer Course 2012


The course is set in Árborg, in South Iceland. Iceland is an active volcanic island sitting on tectonic plate boundaries and the course is held in the wake of large scale earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding, glacial bursts, and glacier retreat in South Iceland. The people and authorities in the region, and as evident during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption even in neighboring countries, need to learn to live with disaster risk and cope with disaster effects. This setting provides a perfect full-scale laboratory for studies of natural disasters and disaster management.

The course addresses all phases of the disaster cycle, examines local, national, and international aspects and discusses the many disciplines needed in disaster management projects. In fact, it is difficult to identify a discipline that is never affected by a disaster in some form or another. Therefore, disaster management projects require representatives with diverse backgrounds, both academic and practical. The philosophy behind this course is that all disciplines should have a common base on which to communicate, enabling them to effectively include different perspectives into disaster management projects. To mirror a multidisciplinary world this course seeks students with different backgrounds. The course also offers specialized projects for students interested in relating disaster management to the field of earthquake engineering.


Course graduates will be able to represent their own discipline in multi-disciplinary disaster management projects (be interlocutors) and to lead multi-disciplinary disaster management projects (be coordinators).


Disasters and disaster management

  • The eight spoke spiral (an extended version of the disaster life cycle)
  • Past and future events; local, national, and international
  • Multi-disciplinary disaster cycle management

Risk analysis

  • Exposure (elements exposed to risk)
  • Natural hazards (focus on earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flooding)
  • Consequences (vulnerability, loss estimation modeling, distribution, likelihood, uncertainty)

Risk mitigation

  • Alternatives
  • Cost-benefit Analysis
  • Evidence of reduced risk


  • Contingency planning for rescue, relief and recovery
  • Coordination mechanisms
  • Exercise planning

Systematic Learning

  • Learning procedures for improving disaster cycle management
  • Obstacles in learning
  • Institutionalizing learning

Learning outcomes

Following completion of the class,participants will able to demonstrate:

i) An understanding the context of disaster cycle management:

  • Describe the core functions of disaster cycle management
  • Demonstrate how their disciplines relate to disaster cycle management
  • Analyze disasters using the eight spoke spiral in order to learn from past events
  • Reference key research in the field of disaster management

ii) Knowledge in the core functions of disaster cycle management:

  • Natural hazards from the perspective of disaster management, especially regarding earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flooding
  • Methods to collect, collate and share information and data for disaster management projects
  • Key terms used in disaster management, their ambiguity and applicability
  • Designing risk analysis projects for risk mitigation and disaster preparedness purposes

iii) Skills in disaster cycle management:

  • Represent their discipline in a multi-disciplinary disaster management project
  • Designing risk analysis projects for risk mitigation and disaster preparedness purposes
  • Coordinate multi-disciplinary disaster management projects
  • Present project findings to stakeholders


Main instructor: Sólveig Thorvaldsdóttir, disaster management expert and PhD candidate at the EERC
Course supervisor: Professor Ragnar Sigbjörnsson, PhD , director of the EERC

Instructor information:
solveig - CopySolveig 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 isalt currentlyworking 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 scheduled to be profiled in the next reprint 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.

Local Participation

The town mayor, municipality staff, governmental institutions, private industries and others are key resources for some of the course projects, contributing to the creation of a full-scale laboratory for disaster risk reduction research.

Reading material

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

Tentative agenda

The course starts on Wednesday 30 May 2012 and concludes on Friday 22 June 2012

Date       Content
30.05.12    Disasters/Introduction to Disaster Cycle Management
31.05.12    Elements at risk (Visits to institutions in Arborg)
01.06.12    Earthquakes
04.06.12    Volcanic eruptions
05.06.12    Flooding
06.06.12    Classroom-on-wheels (Reykjanes peninsula)
07.06.12    Disaster Risk Analysis
08.06.12    Risk Mitigation
11.06.12    Classroom-on-wheels (South Iceland Lowland)
12.06.12    Disaster preparedness
13.06.12    Disaster preparedness and systematic learning
14.06.12    Classroom-on-wheels (Katla and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes)
15.06.12    United Nations 8SS
18.06.12    Disaster Cycle Management in practice
19.06.12    No classes
20.06.12    Project Presentations
21.06.12    No classes
22.06.12    Written Examination and closing ceremony


A unique aspect of the course is three days of “classroom-on-wheels”, where we make the most out of being situated in South Iceland. This learning opportunity involves the course participants and instructors interacting during field-trips, identified by the following destinations:

  • Reykjanes Peninsula
  • South Iceland Lowland
  • Katla and Eyjafjallajokull volcanoes

During this “classroom-on-wheels” the participants will observe first-hand the different, and sometimes challenging, characteristics of Icelandic nature and landscape. Different lava formations, earthquake fissure and spouting geezers can all be found in the region. Here, course participants learn about natural hazards – while observing them.

Basic information

  • The name of this graduate summer course is: Natural Disaster Management
  • The registered name in the University of Iceland system is: UMV114F Natural Catastrophes
  • 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: 2011-2012
  • Duration: 3 weeks of classes (24 days overall duration)
  • Dates: 30. May – 22. June 2012


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.

Prerequisites / Preceding Courses

The course is a graduate level course. Therefore an undergraduate university degree (B.S., B.Sc., B.A. etc) is strictly required.

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.
  • The maximum number of students admitted is 20