School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Health Aspects of Crises, Emergencies and Disasters (PHCM9662)

image - Health Aspects of Crises, Emergencies and Disasters



This course addresses the epidemiological, clinical, population, systems and service management aspects of crises, emergencies and disasters. The course examines the role of healthcare professionals and managers within local and international emergency settings of different scales and durations, including natural disasters and civil emergencies. It utilises a multidisciplinary approach, drawing on a variety of disaster theories from sociology, geography and public health. Expert input will come from Faculty, including Conjoint Faculty who have been actively involved in managing crises situations in the field. Students will be actively involved in scenarios and case studies drawn from major biological, chemical, radiation and natural disasters. The course is suitable for people currently or wishing to work in the emergency, military and related areas (eg public health emergency staff, fire service, forensics, paramedics, police, civil defence and security, emergency management, international disaster management and humanitarian assistance workers, military personnel) in developed as well as developing countries.

Credit points

This course is an elective core course in the Master of Health Management, Master of Public Health and Master of International Public Health programs (and associated dual degrees) comprising six units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program.

Mode of study

This course is offered in two modes: 1) either face-to-face classes on-campus for Internal students, and 2) fully online for Distance External students.

Course aim

The aim of the course is to build learners’ capacity to operate as public health professionals and managers within the context of local or international crises, emergencies and disasters.  It will develop their knowledge of the healthcare aspects of these events, prepare them to assess and respond to such events from the perspective of healthcare services and providers, and assist them to develop the skills required to work within disaster and complex emergency settings.

Course outcomes
The outcomes for this course are to enable you to:
  • Demonstrate understanding of the definition, classification, theories, concepts and methods related to the study of crises, emergencies and disasters;
  • Describe common types and phases of crises, emergencies and disasters, their contributory and ultimate causes including social, political and environmental factors;
  • Discuss the causes and consequences of disasters, including conflict and vulnerability theories, and differential, population level risk factors drawing upon relevant sociological theories;
  • Outline emergency management systems, including relevant laws, policies, and programs from a national and international context (and their implications for effective response);
  • Describe and analyse the nature of and effectiveness of the range of public health responses to the different stages, phases and elements of disasters, including responses to risk of disease, health care, nutrition, mental health, disease surveillance and social disruption;  
  • Appraise the communication, co-ordination and collaboration required by crisis, emergency and disaster responses at a local, national and international level;
  • Critically evaluate approaches to disaster avoidance, amelioration and preparedness in various local and international contexts;
  • Critically analyse the causes and consequences of various types of crises, emergencies and disasters including those arising from chemical, biological, radiological (CBR) and similar events, 'natural' disasters including floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, and epidemics and pandemics as forms of disasters.
Learning and teaching rationale

In order for public health officials and managers to be able to respond effectively to the healthcare aspects of crises, emergencies and disasters, they require an understanding of both the theory and evidence base, and the practical application of this knowledge and related skills. As a result of this focus, we have designed the course to have a very practical orientation.  

We will be using a variety of learning strategies, including lectures, small and large group work, discussions, debates, expert input, case studies, simulation exercises and collective analyses of written materials.  The lectures and course material are organised around understanding the fundamentals of health care aspects of disaster management that you need to know about, however at all stages we will go beyond the knowledge base and discuss how to implement strategies in the field.

Teaching strategies

Internal students - All internally enrolled students are required to attend a 5 day on-campus workshop. The workshop is a compulsory session aimed at providing you with the opportunity for face-to-face interactive learning and discussion.  You will need to attend the 5 days, and you will be expected to engage actively in the different activities and discussions during the 5 days.  Your presence at the workshop and your active participation in the activities during the workshop forms part of your assessment.

External students - For externally enrolled students, this course is, for the most part, self paced.  A three week suggested course schedule is available in the Course Outline. The suggested course pacing is deliberately intensive as this is an intensive course, and indicates when you should be completing certain activities. 


Assessment Task 1 - Participation
Weighting: 10%

Assessment Task 2 - Disaster Management Quiz
Weighting: 40%
Length: 40 Mutiple Choice Questions

Assessment Task 3 - Critical analysis of a public health response to a disaster
Weighting: 50%
Length: 2500 words

Readings and resources

Learning resources for the face to face version of this course consist of the following:

  • A 5-day on campus course incorporating a 1 day workshop scenario
  • Face to Face lectures (recorded on the day for future reference)
  • Interactive Case Studies
  • Online course notes and readings
  • Online discussion and Q&A forums

Learning resources for the online version of this course consist of the following:

  • A 3 week online theory course
  • A 3D Virtual Reality/Immersive interactive workshop scenario completed in your own time, prior to the participation assessment deadline
  • Lecture recordings from the face to face sessions
  • Interactive Case Studies
  • Online course notes and readings
  • Online discussion and Q&A forums