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GEOG 858 - Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management

This is a sample syllabus.

This sample syllabus is a representative example of the information and materials included in this course. Information about course assignments, materials, and dates listed here is subject to change at any time. Definitive course details and materials will be available in the official course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.


GEOG 858: SPATIAL DATA SCIENCE FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT Requires analysis, writing, and collaboration to plan and implement geospatial solutions incorporating emerging technologies to support all stages of emergency management activities.

This course takes an in-depth and critical look at the ways GIS, and geospatial perspectives and technologies more broadly, support all stages of emergency (crisis or disaster) management activities both now and into the future. The latest R&D advances that are helping to achieve this potential now, and some new ones being considered, are also covered with opportunities for hands-on use of new datasets through exercises and the course term project. Overall, the course focuses on fostering a diverse and well-rounded set of skills ranging from a critical assessment of geospatial perspectives and technologies, study design and data analysis, and collaborative problem-solving.

This course will challenge you to exercise the analytical, writing, and collaboration skills needed to develop successful proposals, reports, and creative ways of visualizing and communicating data. A semester-long project provides an opportunity to identify gaps in emergency management knowledge and/or practice and bring geospatial perspectives and analytics to bear. This includes the opportunity to work with real-world data and geospatial analysis techniques. Writing skills are honed through instructor critiques and peer reviews.

Weekly lessons focus on: (a) learning about different facets of emergency management and how geospatial perspectives and technologies are currently being used and what is likely to happen in the near future, (b) critical appraisal of relevant literature about the development of geospatial science for and application to emergency management, (c) in-depth consideration and demonstrations of an emerging geospatial technology trend that is impacting emergency management practice, and (d) online discussions with the class and instructor about the readings and/or emerging themes. Most weeks, the lesson will include hands-on exercises both individually and in teams. 


By the end of this course, you will have gained a detailed understanding of emergency management as an application domain for geospatial science. You will be able to produce effective analyses, project reports, and proposals to support geospatial research and development, implementation, or training activities in emergency management. In addition, you will be able to:

  • describe the stages of emergency management and the roles of geospatial science in each stage;
  • determine which specific geospatial capabilities and types of data are required to support emergency management work at each stage;
  • explain how geospatial techniques have been applied effectively within each stage of emergency management;
  • explain emerging challenges to traditional emergency management, including multi hazard approaches (e.g., how to deal with disasters like hurricanes in the context of pandemics);
  • identify challenges in the application of geospatial science to specific emergency management problems (e.g., evacuation planning and execution, real-time data integration) – thus articulate the future potential of current geospatial approaches in this domain;
  • assess the potential of new, evolving geospatial technologies to meet emergency management needs.
    process and analyze real-life geographic data using proprietary and open-source GIS Software.

Required Materials

The materials listed here represent those that may be included in this course. Students will find a definitive list in the course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.

As part of the Provost's access and affordability initiatives, the library has licensed full access to the required textbooks for this class. You will be able to access the textbooks through the Library Resources link in Canvas. There will be no cost for you to access these required books. Note that only a few readings come from these books, so they are mostly an additional resource for you as you work through the course. Accessing them through the Library may be the best option.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management. Tomaszewski, B., 2021. ISBN: 9781482299700. Available free from Penn State library.(link is external)

Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response. Patrick Meier, 2018. 2015.ISBN: 9781351034845


Recommended Preparation: Geography 483: Problem Solving with GIS


We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is dependent on your attitude, diligence, and willingness to ask for clarifications or help when you need them. We are here to help you succeed. Please keep up with the class schedule and take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us and with your fellow students. You can expect to spend an average of 12 – 15 hours per week on class work.

Major Assignments

Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning include the following, and grades will be based on percentages assigned to each of several components of the course as follows:

Discussions (15% of total course grade)

Participation via online discussion forums related to class readings, emerging technology themes, and current events. Specific instructions on how this will work will be provided for each activity, but will generally involve reacting to a prompt and then discussing with your classmates over the course of the week. We will also aim to have two "live" discussions of two topics during the course via Canvas Conferences or Zoom.

Exercises (20% of total course grade)

Exercises provide opportunities to learn about and work with real-world datasets and geospatial analysis tools to address problems faced in emergency management practice. The exercises result in a short report and visualizations of results in maps or other graphics.

Activities (45% of total course grade)

Activities include a) a short essay assignment critiquing a recent scientific paper, b) developing two collaborative Esri Story Maps on recent disasters (this includes the opportunity to evaluate the contribution of members of your group), and c) a mini-research project assessing damage and recover following a recent disaster.

Term Project (45% of total course grade)

The term project for this course involves multiple components that you'll create to develop a professional report or proposal. The deliverables are a project concept and abstract, a project outline, a short video presentation, a draft, the final term project, and a video summary presentation.

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
  • Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management
  • Emerging Theme Discussion
  • Writing Assignment
  • Term Project: Brainstorm
  • Hazards and Disasters
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
  • Reading Discussion
  • GIS and UAV Data Exercise
  • Term Project: Abstract
  • Vulnerability Assessment and Hazard Mitigation
  • Volunteered Geographic Data
  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Vulnerability Assessment Exercise
  • Preparedness
  • Spatial Data Science and Technology
  • "Live" "Reading Discussion
  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Writing Assignment
  • Term Project: Outline
  • Response
  • Real-time Mapping and Spatial Analytics 
  • Reading Discussion
  • Real-time Mapping and Spatial Analytics Exercise
  • Recovery
  • Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chains
  • "Live" Reading Discussion
  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Term Project: Complete First Draft
  • Using Scenarios to Plan GIS for Emergency Management
  • Social Media and Crisis Mapping
  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Group Story Map
  • Case Study - Collaborative Project
  • Geospatial Artificial Intelligence (geoAI)
  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Group Story Map
  • Case Study - 2008 Sichuan Earthquake
  • Digital Twin (DT)
  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Short Research Assignment
  • Term Project
  • Term Project: Video Presentation
  • Term Project: Final Draft