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. 

This course is an elective core course in the Master of Health Leadership and Management, Master of Public Health and Master of Global Health programs (and associated dual degrees) comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program.

This is a PLuS Alliance course offered through UNSW. Students at UNSW, Arizona State University and Kings College London who are in a PLuS Alliance program can enrol into this course.

Mode of study

Face-to-face classes on-campus for Internal students & fully online for Distance External students

Key contact

A/Prof David Heslop
Course Convenor
+61 (2) 9385 3499

Who should do this course?

The course is suitable for people currently or wishing to work in the emergency, military and related areas (such as 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.

Course outcomes

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.

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 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 & teaching

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. Students are encouraged to bring as many of their personal experiences and viewpoints to the course and will be provided opportunities to collaborate and communicate utilising various techniques.

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 healthcare 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.


Assessment Task 1 – Online Forum Participation
Weighting: 10%

Assessment Task 2 – Disaster Management Quiz
Weighting: 40%
Length: 40 multiple-choice questions

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

Readings & resources 

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

  • three-week online intensive theory course
  • two-hour weekly webinar tutorial 
  • lecture recordings to review
  • interactive case studies
  • workshop activities
  • online course notes and readings
  • online discussion and Q&A forums.