GEOG 588
Planning GIS for Emergency Management

GEOG 588 Syllabus


This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document or by clicking on any of the links below to “jump” to a specific section. Please read the entire document as well as material covered in the course Orientation.


R. Matthew Beaty


Engagement and Communication

Canvas E-mail is the best way to get in touch with me - I check my messages very often (one could call it an addiction). I read and respond to e-mail and discussion posts during the work week (Monday through Friday), and I monitor email over the weekend for urgent issues as they arise.

Course Overview

GEOG 588: PLANNING GIS FOR EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT. Requires analysis and proposal writing to plan and implement GIS solutions supporting emergency management activities of government agencies and contractors.

Prerequisites - GEOG 583: Geospatial System Analysis and Design + GEOG 584: Geospatial Technology Project Management.

Planning GIS for Emergency Management is offered exclusively through the Penn State World Campus as an elective course in the Master of GIS degree program. This course introduces the potential of GIS to support all stages of emergency (crisis or disaster) management activities, the latest R&D advances that are helping to achieve this potential now, and some challenges for the future. The course focuses on requirements analysis and proposal writing targeted toward planning and implementing GIS solutions for government agencies and contractors.

As a basis from which to pursue these objectives, Planning GIS for Emergency Management introduces the current and potential future roles of GIS in support of crisis (emergency) management activities at all geographic scales (local to international). These roles are considered at each of the four stages of crisis management (mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery). Then, selected focus topics (e.g., GIS for evacuation planning and support) are considered in detail.

The course provides a framework for understanding the real-world application of GIS for crisis management and for addressing the applied research needed to enable more effective GIS application in this context. It provides the background and perspective needed by project managers, consultants, and other professionals who are engaged in activities that range from initial requirements analysis (to determine whether and how to implement or extend GIS capabilities for emergency management), through design of training exercises (to develop requisite staff expertise in application of GIS to different kinds of emergency situations), to development of technological enhancements intended to improve the effectiveness of GIS in specific emergency management activities.

This course will challenge you to exercise the analytical and writing skills needed to develop successful project reports and proposals. Assignments focus on helping students to improve their ability to write and critique proposals to agencies that provide funding to support state and local implementation and application of GIS for Emergency Management and/or to support industry development of new technologies (e.g., the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or State Departments of Emergency Management). A semester-long project involves writing in response to real or hypothetical solicitations for a project that targets GIS tool development, implementation, and/or training to support emergency management activities in local, regional, state, national, or international contexts. Writing skills are honed through instructor critiques and peer reviews.

Weekly lessons focus on: (a) critical appraisal of relevant literature about development of GIS for and application to emergency management and (b) application of knowledge gained to representative challenges faced by IT managers who implement or upgrade GIS to support emergency management and by IT researchers/developers who attempt to develop advanced GIS capabilities to better meet the needs of emergency managers.

What will be expected of you?

As in any graduate level course, you will be challenged to move beyond the knowledge and skills that you bring to the class. You can expect to be busy; as a rough estimate, you should allow 10-12 hours per week for class assignments. Included in the 10-12 hours each week is time to complete projects and related activities. You'll be glad to know that you don't have to show up for class at a certain time! All you need to do is complete assignments before the published deadline at the end of each week.

During the term, I encourage everyone to use the course discussion tools to help each other find relevant materials, learn about interesting applications of GIS for emergency management, and exchange ideas about your proposals.

My colleagues and I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule, and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me, as well as with your fellow students.

For a more detailed look at what will be covered in each lesson, as well as due dates for our assignments and activities, please refer to the semester-specific course schedule that is part of this syllabus (see "Course Schedule").

Course Goals

By the end of this course, you will be able to produce effective project reports and proposals to support GIS research and development, implementation, or training activities targeted at the application domain of emergency management. Specifically, learning objectives are divided into three sub-categories:

  • Emergency management as an application domain for GIS - Upon successful completion of the course, you will be able to
    • Understand the stages of emergency management and the roles of GIS in each stage;
    • Determine which specific GIS capabilities and kinds of data are required to support emergency management work at each stage;
    • Explain how GIS techniques have be applied effectively within each stage of emergency management;
    • Identify challenges in application of GIS to specific emergency management problems (e.g., evacuation planning and execution, real-time data integration) – thus articulate the future potential of current GIS in this domain;
    • Assess the potential of new, evolving GIS technologies to meet emergency management needs.
  • Report and Proposal writing - Upon successful completion of the course, you will be able to
    • Develop a report or project proposal that identifies or responds to needs for GIS solutions in emergency management;
    • Identify and explain possible matches between your organization’s needs or capabilities and relevant new GIS technologies and/or funding agency priorities;
    • Write an effective statement of goals or purpose for your report or proposal that makes its content and motivation clear;
    • Structure a report or proposal in a logical manner that can be understood easily by reviewers;
    • If you choose to write a proposal, generate a convincing case for: (a) your organization’s need (or expertise to meet a need) (b) your organization’s ability to carry out the proposed work;
    • If you choose to write a report, generate a convincing case for: (a) your understanding of prior work and relevant literature (b) what the implications are of your findings.
  • Critical Reading - Upon successful completion of the course, you will be able to
    • Evaluate professional literature critically (thus are able to systematically identify strengths and weaknesses in an author’s arguments, innovative ideas, connections to previous work);
    • Provide constructive feedback on work written by others;
    • Provide fair, objective reviews of work written by others.

Required Course Materials

In order to access the online materials for this course, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password. If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk.

As part of the Provost's access and affordability initiatives, the library has licensed full access to the required textbook for this class.  You will be able to access this textbook through the Library Resources link in Canvas.  There will be no cost for you to access this required book.  

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management. Tomaszewski, B., 2014. ISBN: 9781482299700.

Using the Library

Just like on-campus students, as a Penn State student, you have a wealth of library resources available to you!

You can...

  • search for journal articles (many are even immediately available in full-text);
  • request articles that aren't available in full-text and have them delivered electronically;
  • borrow books and other materials and have them delivered to your doorstep;
  • access materials that your instructor has put on Electronic Reserve;
  • talk to reference librarians in real time using chat, phone, and e-mail;
  • ...and much more!

Assignments and Grading

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:

  • Class participation: Individual participation via online discussion forums and comments on lesson pages. Students will be encouraged to post questions and answer each others questions on the online forums. Class participation makes up 35% of your grade.
  • Writing Assignments: Six short writing assignments involve responding to academic articles and researching a problem with students as a collaborative team. Writing assignments make up 25% of your grade.
  • Term Project: The term project for this course involves multiple components that you'll create to develop a professional report or proposal. The term project is worth 40% of your course grade. The deliverables are:
    • 1 Paragraph Abstract indicating which project option you choose and describing in general terms what you will cover
    • Project Structural Outline (headings and several bullets under each heading for the main topics you'll cover)
    • Full Draft of Term Project
    • Revised Final Term Project
    • Video Summary of Term Project

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Letter Grades and Percentages
A 90-100%
A- 87.5-89.9%
B+ 85-87.4%
B 80-84.9%
B- 77.5-79.9%
C+ 75-77.4%
C 70-74.9%
D 60-69.9%
F <60%
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student.

GEOG 588 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Course length: 10 weeks

Below you will find a brief summary of the lesson objectives for this course and the associated time frames. Assignment information will be located on each lesson's checklist - so you will need to check there for the full set of details and deliverables. Sometimes, the details for each Lesson can change, and it's possible that the syllabus may not be updated as quickly as the Lesson checklists, so always check specific Lesson checklists for the latest details. This course is 10 weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long and opens on Wednesday.

Course Assignments and Activities
Week Lesson Assignments
Week 0 Lesson 0: Orientation
  • Complete the steps outlined in our site orientation. (Click on the Orientation link to begin the orientation.)
Week 1 Lesson 1: Introduction to GIS in Emergency Management
  • Short Writing Assignment
  • Announce Term Project
Week 2 Lesson 2: Hazards and Disasters
  • Short Writing Assignment
  • Write Term Project Abstract
Week 3 Lesson 3: Vulnerability Assessment and Hazard Mitigation
  • Short Writing Assignment
  • Background Research for Term Project
Week 4 Lesson 4: Preparedness
  • Short Writing Assignment
  • Write Outline for Term Project
Week 5 Lesson 5: Response
  • Discussion Assignment
  • Make Progress on Full Draft of Term Project
Week 6 Lesson 6: Recovery
  • Complete Full Draft of Term Project
Week 7 Lesson 7: Using Scenarios to Plan GIS for Emergency Management
  • Complete Collaborative Scenario Project
Week 8 Lesson 8: Case Study - Collaborative Project
  • Complete Collaborative Project to Research Recent Disaster
  • Continue progress on Term Project
Week 9 Lesson 9: Case Study - 2008 Sichuan Earthquake
  • Complete Research Assignment
  • Continue progress on Term Project
Week 10 Lesson 10: Term Project
  • Participate in Mini-Conference
  • Submit Term Project

Course Policies

Late Assignments

"Late" is defined as anything turned in after the date and time specified in the Course Calendar in Canvas. A flat penalty of 20% per assignment will be assessed. For example, if you do not turn in a 10 point writing assignment on time, 2 points will be deducted when you turn in that assignment.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted.  We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted.  This is called mixed content.  By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.  This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed.  Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


This course must be viewed using one of the following browsers: Firefox (any version), Safari (versions 5.1 or 6.0), Chrome (0.3 or later), or Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer PlugIn. If you use any other browser, there will be pages containing equations that do not render properly. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from the Penn State World Campus are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the guidelines for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Plagiarism Tutorial for Students.

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: Contacts for Student Disability Resources at all Penn State Campuses. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources (SDR) website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation, see Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Inclement Weather

In case of weather-related delays at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.