Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita e dell'Ambiente - Guida degli insegnamenti (Syllabus)


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Seat Scienze
A.A. 2016/2017
Credits 7
Hours 56
Period 1^ semestre
Language ENG
U-gov code ST03 W000520


No particular prerequisites are required to attend this course, except for a general knowledge of the basic principles of Earth science.

Development of the course

The course consists of frontal lectures, accompanied by critical reading activities of scientific articles and other material that students will have to discuss in the classroom, both with the teacher and other students. Short field trips are also scheduled to visit real life examples of the extreme events discussed in class (eg. landslides, flood plains, earthquake effects). The course also includes a 2 or 3 day field trip (depending on financial availability) to visit places affected by past disasters or vulnerable to future impact, or to attend civil protection exercises. Finally, students can decide to develop independent studies projects on forecast methods or risk prevention and mitigation strategies. Given the strong interactive nature of the course, attendance to lectures and class activities is strongly recommended.

Learning outcomes

The course aims at enabling students to acquire basic knowledge on natural processes and extreme events that may harm people and economic activities. At the end of the course, students should be able to grasp the complexity of the human-environment relationship, and highlight the anthropogenic origin of risk and disaster. This is achieved by providing students with the knowledge of both environmental processes (including climate change) and social processes that create the conditions of vulnerability, as well as the possible response in terms of civil protection activities to prevent and mitigate potential impacts.

Ability to apply the knowledge:
Critical readings and class discussions will compel students to gain ability to effectively communicate issues related to civil protection. The possibility to develop independent study projects is also aimed at fostering student's ability in maximizing their own personal characteristics and their knowledge on the subjects of sustainable development, adaptive capacity and resilience to disasters. All these activities will climax with the participation to drills organized by the civil protection, thus giving the students maximum training momentum to best apply their knowledge and individual characteristics. Following are some of the skills that the course seeks to develop in students: acquire and interpret information, communicate effectively; Interpersonal, intercultural, social and civic competence; resourcefulness; problem solving; pinpoint links and correlations. Ultimately, the course aims at providing both the technical and scientific knowledge on disasters and on civil protection activities, and to stimulate the individual to take advantage of his/her own characteristics (cognitive, emotional and volitional). The goal is to prepare students to face future professional challenges.

Soft skills:
Understanding the surrounding environment and learn how to survive and adapt to it requires skills built that derives from thorough synthesis of theoretical knowledge and life experiences. Performing activities of civil protection means, inter-alia, to be able to cross the disciplinary boundaries, work in team, manage time effectively, being practical, learn from mistakes, make the best use available resources, communicate effectively, follow the rules and above all know how to handle the unexpected.


Pivotal in the understanding of catastrophic events is the realization that vulnerability and risk are created by an improper use of the natural and technological systems by the humankind. This module covers the basic concepts of human-ecology and discuss the most important disaster agents. The course also initiates students to the basics of emergency management; its organization, the essential activities, the different typologies of hazards, the available technologies and the planning strategies.

The course is divided into three thematic areas: (i) environmental geography and human ecology of disasters; (ii) natural hazards and possible effects, (iii) the human response to disaster. Below are the specific details for each theme.

Environmental geography and human ecology of disasters: Culture, ethics and disasters; The human-environment relationship: evil nature or bad environmental management?; Natural cycles and extreme events in relation to the socio-economic processes; hazard, vulnerability, disaster and crisis; Safety, risk and the cost/benefit ratio; Emergency and crisis (the alteration of the normal function); Time-space scales in disasters;

Natural hazards and possible effects: Energy sources of hazard; Geophysical hazards (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, coastal erosion, subsidence); Climate hazards (hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, floods, droughts, fires); Bio-ecological hazards (epidemics, pest invasion, extinctions); Social hazards (wars, terrorism, refugees, urban fires, collapse of infrastructures);

The human response to disaster: The socio-economic impact; Forecast, prevention, mitigation and emergency planning; Search and rescue; Short and long term reconstruction; Spatial analysis and urban planning; The lessons from disasters: past, present and future.

Development of the examination

Methods for assessing learning outcomes:
The course final exam is oral and there are no midterms or written tests. However, classroom activities include critical reading and discussion of scientific material. The active participation of the students in these class discussions is among the learning evaluation methods. Similarly, the development of an independent study project, and the presentation of its results in class contributes to assess students’ learning as well as to the final grade the student will obtain from the course.

Criteria for assessing learning outcomes: 
During the oral exam the student must demonstrate good knowledge of environmental geography and human ecology subjects related to human development and adaptation to the surround environment and habitat, as well as knowledge of the various types of natural hazards discussed in class, including principles and methods of emergency management. The exam questions will cover proportionately these three thematic areas. Students must demonstrate to have achieved the ability to apply the concepts learned, both in terms of technical skills, and in terms of reasoning and ability to formulate strategies to overcome hazard and disaster scenarios.

Criteria for measuring learning outcomes:
The course final grade will be express in thirtieth. The passing mark is 18/30. Students showing thorough preparation and insightful analysis will be awarded the highest marks with honors (30 cum laude).

Criteria for measuring learning outcomes:
The final grade is given by adding the evaluation of the various answers to questions on the three thematic areas covered in the teaching. An active participation in the critical reading exercises performed in class, as well as the development of an independent study, will bring an additional bonus to the final grade exam. Bonuses, however, may not exceed 3/30. Honors (30 cum laude) will awarded to the students who demonstrates to have fully mastered the subject.

Recommended reading

Notes and teaching materials provided in class and made available online
Calamità Naturali. David E. Alexander Pitagora Editrice, Bologna 1990
Natural Disasters. Patrick L.Abbott Mc Graw Hill. New York 2004
Disasters by Design: a reassessment of natural hazards in the USA. D.S. Mileti. Joseph Henry Press, Washington D.C. 1999.
Natural Disasters. D.E. Alexander. Chapman and Hall, New York 1993.
The Environment as Hazard (second edition). I. Burton, R.W. Kates, and G. F. White. Guilford Press, New York, 1993.
Hazards: Local, National, Global. G.F. White, Oxford University Press, New York, 1974

  • Scienze ambientali e protezione civile

Università Politecnica delle Marche
P.zza Roma 22, 60121 Ancona
Tel (+39) 071.220.1, Fax (+39) 071.220.2324
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