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Managing Complex Disasters Curriculum

General Information

Dickinson College offers a Master’s Degree in Managing Complex Disasters and three post-baccalaureate certificates.

Requirements for the Master’s degree 

The following three (3) core courses are required: 

MGCD 801:  Managing Complex Disasters
MGCD 810:  Mixed Methods in Disaster and Complex Emergency Research   
MGCD 890:  Capstone Seminar   

Students choose an additional seven (7) elective courses from those listed below. 

Requirements for a certificate

All three certificates require the core course (MGCD 801) Managing Complex Disasters.  Each of the three certificates also has one required course specific to that certificate.  Students choose an additional two (2) elective courses from those listed below.   

Certificate Number One - Resilience in the Face of Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Resource Scarcity

Required course:
MGCD 820:  Environmental Hazards, Global Warming and Resource Depletion 

Electives that are especially appropriate for this certificate:
MGCD 854:  Food Security in a Rapidly Changing World
MGCD 855:  Global Environmental Change and Human Security
MGCD 858:  The Arctic
MGCD 8XX:  Environmental Disasters: Science, Response and Mitigation 

Certificate Number Two - Human and Social Factors in Disaster Situations 

Required course:
MGCD 830:   Psychosocial Dimensions of Disaster 

Electives that are especially appropriate for this certificate:
MGCD 851:  Influence Operations in the Age of Networks
MGCD 853:  Theory and Practice in Humanitarian Response and Human Rights Protection
MGCD 857:  Women, Peace and Security
MGCD 8XX:  Economics of Disaster Recovery
MGCD 8XX:  Intercultural Relations 

Certificate Number Three - Coping with Public Health Emergencies 

Required course: 
MGCD 840:  Public Health and Disasters     

Electives that are especially appropriate for this certificate:
MGCD 8XX:  Disasters and Diseases:  How Do the Poor in Developing Countries Cope with Public Health Crises
MGCD 8XX:  Disaster Epidemiology
MGCD 856:  Combatting Developing World’s Health Challenges

Important notes:

  • It is the responsibility of the student to choose and satisfactorily complete courses that fulfill the requirements for a degree or certificate.
  • Only those students who have completed all requirements for the degree/certificate are eligible to participate in the Commencement ceremony each May.
  • A student must pass ten courses (30 credits) for the master’s degree or four courses (12 credits) for a certificate with a cumulative average of 3.00.
  • A student must complete a minimum of seven courses (21 credits) for the master’s degree or two courses (6 credits) for a certificate through Dickinson.


801 Managing Complex Disasters
A survey course designed to introduce students to basic issues and concepts relating to human security. Students will discuss natural sources of disasters, including climate change, environmental degradation, and pandemics. They will also be introduced to human sources of vulnerability, including poverty, racism, marginalization, and poor governance. Students will also discuss the prerequisites for effective emergency management.

810 Mixed Methods in Disaster and Complex Emergency Research
This course will provide an introduction to the research developments in mixed methods research in human security and disaster/complex emergency studies. Mixed methods research is more than simply collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. Mixed methods goes further and explores the interaction or "mixing" of both forms of data. A complete methodology for research has emerged that explores the design of studies involving this "mixing."
Prerequisite: 801.

820 Environmental Hazards, Global Warming and Resource Depletion
A survey of the essential elements of large-scale environmental hazards, global warming and resource depletion that act on national and international scales and that need to be integrated into adaption, response and mitigation strategies in order to better manage complex disasters.

830 Psychosocial Dimensions of Disaster
This course aims to provide students with the tools to understand and critically appraise human behavior within a disaster context. Students will consider and apply knowledge gained through this course to promote disaster resilience using an ecological systems perspective.

840 Public Health and Disasters
From the standpoint of public health, a disaster is defined on the basis of its consequences on population health and health services. The recent experience of Covid 19 has demonstrated how important public health is to the security of all populations. This course focuses on the role of public health throughout the disaster cycle (preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation) to help minimize the effects of disasters on communities.

851 Influence Operations in the Age of Networks
This course explores the theories, capabilities, functions, tools, and techniques for influencing the attitudes and behaviors of targeted foreign audiences. Working through various case studies and scenarios, students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to plan and analyze influence operations and counter their threats.

852 The Media in Humanitarian Disasters
This course explores the role of the media in international crises and peacebuilding, and the techniques adopted by state and non-state actors as well as international organizations to influence media performance before, during and after violent conflicts. It begins by examining the theoretical role of the media in peacebuilding and in international crises. Then, through a case study approach, it measures media performance in practice in the major conflicts of the cold war and in the post 9/11 era. The course also explores the role of the media in international peace support operations ranging from the military humanitarian interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s to recent UN Peacekeeping Operations in the DRC, Somalia and Sudan.

853 Theory and Practice in Humanitarian Response and Human Rights Protection
The course will prepare students to understand and engage in humanitarian response and human rights protection, while examining emerging critical challenges that have multi-dimensional global impacts.

854 Food Security in a Rapidly Changing World
World hunger and a lack of food security continue to be among the biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. This course will focus on the causes of food insecurity and the implications for worldwide hunger in the coming years. For most people, food security is often confused simply with lack of income. However, lack of food security is a very complicated issue in both the developing and the developed world. As pointed out by the famed economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, the reason for world hunger is not that developing countries do not produce enough food. Rather, world hunger is because of poor government policies. This issue is now becoming even more complicated due to climate change. Rising global temperatures are affecting agricultural yields, food production, and fresh water supply. The goal of this course is to shed light on the complicated issue of food insecurity and on how policymakers are trying to deal with the challenges. The class will start by considering how achieving food security was the key to helping European nations become colonial powers. Next, the class will focus on modern challenges: the water-food-energy nexus; the looming water crisis for a quarter of the world’s population; climate change; why many countries seem to be in a poverty trap and find it difficult to get out of poverty; how foreign aid may or may not help those countries; the role of agriculture and farming practices; the importance of access to credits for food security; effects on child labor and education; rising income and changing food diet; how migration and refugee crises may be affected by food insecurity; how malnourishment can be tied to lack of proper sanitation rather than lack of food; and how future demographic shifts may affect food security. Overall, these water security and food security issues will help us understand how international security, terrorism, social unrest, rise of dictatorships, and migration may affect the world, including in developed countries, in coming years.

855 Global Environmental Change and Human Security
Local environmental constraints have to some extent always determined the security of individuals and communities. But today, localized constraints have diminished as the industrial revolution and the modern nation-state have exponentially increased the production of goods, the use of energy and international trade. This has led to an expanding global population that is by and large living longer, consuming more, and getting better educated. It has also led to consumption and pollution that is global in nature not because environmental change is shared equally but because the consequences (i.e., land degradation, deforestation, depletion of fish stocks, water pollution and scarcity, toxic contamination, and climate change) transcend borders and globalization increasingly locates sites of resource consumption far from the sites of resource extraction. These global environmental changes have, not surprisingly, provoked a robust discussion about the links between the environment, peace, and security.

856 Combatting Developing World’s Health Challenges
Since the start of Covid-19, which started in a developing country and spread rapidly to have an immense effect on human security and economic security across the globe, health systems and policies in the developing world are receiving renewed attention from policymakers and global leaders. The goals of this course are threefold: (i) understand the major health challenges that developing countries currently face, (ii) understand how they contribute to human insecurity and social instability in those countries, and (iii) compare and contrast the effectiveness of different policies employed by the countries to fight the health challenges. In addition to epidemics, this course will examine the current burden and distribution of diseases across the developing world and focus on some of the biggest contributors to the global burden of diseases, such as, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrheal disease, and malnutrition issues. Given the massive human cost and economic costs of such diseases, the course will focus on the effectiveness of different policies used to combat such diseases. Through readings from the public health, economics, business, and medical literature, the course will focus on the causes behind the prevalence of the diseases in certain regions and the debates surrounding effectiveness of different policy interventions to combat these diseases. Additionally, the course will also look into historical cases of major diseases around the world, understand their impacts on human security and global security, and examine the policies that did work and did not work in addressing those major diseases.

857 Women, Peace and Security
According to the Women, Peace and Security Act “The United States should be a global leader in promoting the participation of women in conflict prevention, management and resolution and post-conflict relief and recovery efforts.” Drawing upon case studies from Somalia, Haiti and Syria, this course will address socio-economic and cultural issues that have a direct impact on women in peacemaking.

858 The Arctic
This course reviews the physical components of the Arctic, with a focus on physical geography, the cryosphere (glaciers, sea ice, permafrost), and potential economic resources, as well as the current strategic plans for Arctic Council member states, permanent members, and observer nations. Course participants will engage in exercises and discussions to increase their spatial awareness of these entities and will examine the consequences of likely changes based on predicted temperature and precipitation models. They will also discuss the intersections of ecological and physical change caused by global warming with strategic Arctic policies developed by Arctic Council members and other entities (various branches of U.S. Armed Forces).

859 Leading Through Crisis
Leading during a crisis or disaster presents unique challenges for the leader, the team and the organization. Such situations are often characterized as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and yet require precise and effective decision-making and leadership. Complex Disaster Leadership will explore the ways and means by which leaders either rise or fall to the occasion, the traits and skills necessary to succeed, how staffs and organizations can support decision-making, and how effective leaders are able to lead through the chaos that results when complexity and high risk are introduced to any situation.

861 GIS and Remote Sensing for Disaster Management
This course focuses on the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) products and technologies in the prevention, preparedness, relief and rehabilitation stages of disaster management. The lectures and lab exercises would present fundamental concepts and widely used methodologies for geospatial analysis of risk and vulnerability. This course will integrate perspectives from the physical and social sciences to identify and describe risk and vulnerability with empirical data and real-world examples. Utilizing desktop and online software applications from ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute), students would work on a progression of tasks and assignments focused on data collection, manipulation, analysis, output, and presentation involving various disaster scenarios.

862 Disaster Recovery and Resilience
Stabilizing a community’s recovery quickly is essential to a community’s long-term strength. However, the “disaster recovery toolkit” often lacks or underuses strategies for equitable recovery. In the age of climate change, it has become even more critical to understand the impacts of disaster events on the fabric of communities and plan for resilience prior to and in the aftermath of disaster events. This course provides an introduction to recovery and resilience in relation to natural, human-made, technological, and biological hazards, with a particular emphasis on the rapid evidence and impacts of climate change. It particularly focuses on issues facing communities, regional planners, and non-profit advocates in preparing for and recovering from disasters.

863 Complex Emergencies and International Organizations
The number of complex emergencies in the world is increasing and is expected to do so in the future. This class will discuss in detail the way different international organizations, from the United Nations to non-governmental organizations, work to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from complex emergencies such as war, natural disasters, exposure to climate change and other public health humanitarian crises. It will discuss the history of international organizations, role that these organizations play in the event of disasters and crises and how international organizations, governments and communities coordinate in response to unfolding as well as long-lasting complex emergencies. The class will become familiar with different approaches to disaster-risk reduction and international frameworks and commitments designed to reduce exposure, build resilience and foster sustainable development in the places most vulnerable to complex emergencies.

890 Capstone Seminar
The Capstone Project provides an opportunity for students to engage in high-level inquiry focusing on an area of specialization within their area of interest. Capstone projects will be inquiry and practice-centered and will draw upon areas of interest to the student. The aim of the course is to facilitate the development of your Capstone Project. Students will work on the construction of either a multi-issue country report (for example, mapping the human security situation in a specific country) or a single-issue report (a study of multiple factors that combine to influence a single issue, such as food security or public health) at either the global or regional level. Prerequisite: 801