GEOG 858
Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management

GEOG 858 Syllabus


Spring 2024

Welcome to GEOG 858! This Syllabus is divided into several sections with information to help you work through the course. Please read the entire document as well as the material covered in the course Orientation. I am happy to make any clarifications and help you get settled. 

Matt Beaty


I’m Matt Beaty, your instructor this term for Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management. You may see me listed in some of the offical course information as Robert, but I go by Matt. In addition to teaching for Penn State’s Online Geospatial Education Program, I work for the Australian Bureau of Statistics ( as a spatial data scientist delivering spatial data and analytical projects on climate-related emergencies as part of the Australian Climate Service ( So, I am very much interested in the material covered in GEOG 858! Before my current role, I worked at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Government Department of Health, and the CSIRO. Australia’s national research lab. I started this career path after completing my Ph.D. work in Geography at Penn State! You can find out more about me on my bio page, and we will do more instructions during the orientation week.  


Engagement and Communication

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

I will also hold individual or group virtual office hours during the course to discuss any concerns or feedback on how the course is tracking. 

Course Overview

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.

Recommended Preparation: Geography 483: Problem Solving with GIS

Spatial Data Science 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 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. 

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 geospatial applications 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 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 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.

You will need to download some datasets and software during the orientation and first week of class. You can find a list of software in Canvas on the "Download and Test Software" page in the "Orientation and Course Resources" module.

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. Avaliable free from Penn State library.
  • Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response. Patrick Meier, 2018. 2015.ISBN: 9781351034845

Other readings will be provided through links in the GEOG 858 Canvas space. 

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 email;
  • ...and much more!

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Technical Requirements page, including the requirements for ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS has been developed for the Windows Operating System. Please read the Run ArcGIS Pro in Mac OS X instructions if you are using a Mac. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk

You will be required to download and install the software and data during the Orientation week. This is so we can troubleshoot any issues well before you have to use the software and data during the lessons. I can help you work through any problems. 

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.

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:

  • Discussions: 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. Participation in the discussions makes up 15% of your grade.
  • Exercises: 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, and represent up to 20% of your final grade. 
  • Activities: 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. Activities make up 20% 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 45% of your course grade. The deliverables are:
    • Project Concept and Abstract - paragraph introducing your project idea and a general description of what you will cover
    • Project Outline - headings and several bullet points under each heading for the main topics you'll cover; key reference list 
    • Short Video Presentation to Class - a short 3-5 minute video recording explaining your project to the class 
    • Full Draft of Term Project
    • Revised Final Term Project
    • Video Summary Presentation of Term Project

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

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

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

Late Assignments

"Late" is defined as anything turned in after the date and time specified in the Course Calendar in Canvas. All assignments are subject to a 10% per day late penalty (exclusive of extenuating, approved circumstances).

GEOG 858 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 Title and Technology Focus Assignments
Week 0 Lesson 0: Orientation
  • Complete the steps outlined in our site orientation. (Click on the Orientation link to begin the orientation.) 
  • Download the required software and datasets from the "Download and Test Software" page in the "Orientation and Course Resources" module.
  • Provide evidence of software installations and data downloads
Week 1

Lesson 1: Spatial Data Science for Emergency Management

  • Emerging Theme Discussion
  • Writing Assignment

  • Term Project: Brainstorm

Week 2

Lesson 2: Hazards and Disasters

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

  • Reading Discussion
  • GIS and UAV Data Exercise
  • Term Project: Abstract
Week 3

Lesson 3: Vulnerability Assessment and Hazard Mitigation

Volunteered Geographic Data

  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Vulnerability Assessment Exercise
Week 4

Lesson 4: Preparedness

Spatial Data Science and Technology

  • "Live" "Reading Discussion

  • Emerging Technology Discussion

  • Writing Assignment

  • Term Project: Outline

Week 5

Lesson 5: Response

Real-time Mapping and Spatial Analytics 

  • Reading Discussion
  • Real-time Mapping and Spatial Analytics Exercise
Week 6

Lesson 6: Recovery

Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chains

  • "Live" Reading Discussion
  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Term Project: Complete First Draft
Week 7

Lesson 7: Using Scenarios to Plan GIS for Emergency Management

Social Media and Crisis Mapping

  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Group Story Map
Week 8

Lesson 8: Case Study - Collaborative Project

Geospatial Artificial Intelligence (geoAI)

  • Emerging Theme Discussion
  • Group Story Map
Week 9

Lesson 9: Case Study - 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

Digital Twin (DT)

  • Emerging Technology Discussion
  • Short Research Assignment
Week 10 Lesson 10: Term Project
  • Term Project: Video Presentation
  • Term Project: Final Draft

Course Policies

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State 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 procedures 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 Academic Integrity Training 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 Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources 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 documentation guidelines at 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.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures 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 these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering 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.

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 well-being.  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

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.

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 for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework 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 to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.