Fall 2019 - CMNS 356 D100

Communication to Mitigate Disasters (4)

Class Number: 3351

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    WMC 3210, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    60 units, including two of CMNS 230, 240, and 253 (or 253W).



An introduction to the special role communication and information systems play in efforts to mitigate effects of major emergencies and disasters. Topics include: Canadian and international disaster management programs, practices and issues; principles of emergency communication planning and operation, and the application and influence of new communication and information technologies (including electronic networks) in hazard information gathering, interpretation, exchange and management. Students with credit for CMNS 456 may not take this course for further credit.


The increasing complexity of societies and growing specialization in hazard management clearly demonstrates that no authority or discipline can identify and address all of the significant consequences of hazards.  This applies whether hazards be natural (earthquakes, extreme weather events, etc.), human-induced (such as nuclear and hazardous chemical accidents), or the interaction of both.  The impacts of hazards cut across economic, social and political divisions in society, and the adequacy of the cumulative response is greatly influenced by the degree to which proactive, as well as reactive, action can be effectively integrated and optimized.  Successful integration of hazard reduction efforts, therefore, depends on the ability of organizations, and individuals involved in all phases of the disaster management process (prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery/rehabilitation), to work together to develop and implement solutions to commonly recognized problems.  In this regard, key factors in effective mitigation are the underpinning social and technical communication systems that contribute to building knowledge about hazards and the interpretive processes, which contribute to the formulation of options for collective action.  

Over the course of the past quarter century, tremendous changes to the global communication infrastructure have taken place, including the popular uptake of the Internet and new forms of social networking, the staggering growth and plummeting costs of mobile telecommunications, and the implementation of advanced space-based remote-sensing and satellite communication systems.  These new technologies are affecting the field of disaster management with an ambitious, but often vague, promise of enhancing planning, and reducing loss of life and property, through improved communications.  In effect, two major developments have taken place within the last two decades:  a conceptual shift in disaster management toward more holistic and long-term risk reduction strategies; and a communication revolution that has increased dramatically, both the accessibility of information, and the functionality of communication technology for disaster management.  While these shifts hold great promise for significantly reducing the impact of disasters, many issues remain to be addressed or resolved.  These include issues affecting risk management and sustainable development, community resiliency and capacity building, emergency communications policy and interoperability, and appropriate technology transfer.                                                                                                                                                 

Drawing on some of these pressing issues, this course will introduce students to disaster risk reduction concepts and practices in a Canadian and an international context and explore the underpinning role of communication.  The course will include: an overview of government and non-government organizations responsible for emergency and disaster planning and management in Canada; the special role of communication and information systems in disaster management, and policy issues affecting their use; and the potential role that new communication and information technologies can play in enhancing information gathering, interpretation and exchange, in support of research and disaster management practices.  This course will also include guest speakers, in-class demonstrations and local field trips.


Seminar Topics:  

  •     Introduction to hazards, disaster risk reduction and management theory and concepts.
  •     Federal, provincial and local government responsibilities and programs.
  •     International disaster reduction programs; the role of the U.N. and non-U.N. agencies; the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
  •     Emergency communication planning and systems.
  •     Public warning systems.
  •     Social media and public engagement.
  •     The development of new disaster management information networks and applications.
  •     Summary and review.


  • Grading: (subject to revision with notice)
  • Lecture and Tutorial Participation 20%
  • In-Class Exam 25%
  • Two Assignments 55%


The school expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades.  In addition, the School will follow Policy S10.01 with respect to Academic Integrity, and Policies S10.02, S10.03 and S10.04 as regards Student Discipline.



Handbook “Introduction to Emergency Management in Canada” will be sold in class for $60.00.  

Other course readings will be made available on-line.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html