EMSE 6310.10 – Information Technology in Crisis and Emergency Management

Here is my “work in progress” of a syllabus for the upcoming course that I’m teaching at the George Washington University.  There’s still some revisions that I plan on doing.  If you were taking this course, what would you want to hear about?

EMSE 6310.10 – Information Technology in Crisis and Emergency Management

Mondays, 6:10 – 8:40 pm at 1776 G St / Room 104



The role of information in crisis and response management, determining disaster and crisis information requirements; information technologies applied to crisis, disaster and emergency management; causes and effects of information breakdowns during crises and disasters.  This course is a primer to the convergence of technology and emergency/disaster management.  The course will run through the myriad of different techniques to establish a connection (voice or data) during and following a disaster; how GIS can inform decision making; and the emerging role of social media.  The successful student of this course will be better able to critically analyze technical products for their applicability in disaster, risk and crisis management; and provide the interface between the technical community and the emergency management community.


Course Positioning & Philosophy

Technology is the foundation that allows modern society to operation.  Businesses and government use this to provide services to the population.  Technology relies on other infrastructures — such as communications, electrical, fossil fuels and water — to operate efficiently.  This technological foundation is threatened by disasters, and also could quite possibly be the cause.  An earthquake could damage an electrical generation dam which then causes power blackouts and flooding.  The power blackouts disrupt communication systems which in turn stop public warnings of the impending floods downstream.  The disaster response efforts bring in their own technology to generate power and establish communications (voice and data) which are temporary solutions with all those issues.

A business manager may (or may not) understand the critical value of infrastructure to keeping themselves operational.  The emergency management for the community should be versed in what is necessary to respond to emergencies and disasters for their jurisdiction.  The traditional IT department is used being in maintenance mode to keep things running on a day to day basis.  Unfortunately, these three areas are often not working together where they all converge.  This course looks at the technologies used at the convergence of these areas.  This course assumes that the participants

  • know a certain amount of business continuity and can understand the importance of a business planning for the worst case,
  • know the basic emergency management concepts, including ICS, and the importance of communication (voice and data) during a disaster, and
  • know some basics about technology.


This course will explore the many ways that technology can be used during an emergency, disaster or crisis.  The focus will be on technologies that can be either built into existing systems to provide redundancy or to be used while responding to a disaster.

This course is taught from a practical or business standpoint.  There will be academic lectures, group activities and discussions combined with real, practical example of how technology is actually used.  Given the quickly changing nature of this topic, the Internet will be used to bring the most current and relevant information.


Course Objectives

  • Understand the role of information in crisis and response management.
  • Determine disaster and crisis information requirements.
  • Identify causes and effects of information breakdowns during crises and disasters.
  • Understand the application of terrestrial and satellite technology to crisis, disaster and emergency management
  • Critically analyze the positioning of existing off-the-shelf technologies


Reading Materials

There are no textbooks for this course.  Reading materials will be posted on Blackboard in the files section under the weekly folder.



This course is graded using the standard grading method. Students will be awarded a grade of A, A -, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C- or F on the basis of their performance in meeting the requirements of the course. The grade of A is awarded for work that is outstanding and exceeds expectations. The grade of B is for work that meets and in many respects exceeds expectations.  The grade of C is awarded for work that is below graduate school level standards. The grade of F is for work that is significantly below expectations, or is incomplete or not turned in.

Grades will be posted on Blackboard continually through the course.  Feedback on the submitted projects will be included in the comments section of the grade, or in the document returned to you.  Each student will have the opportunity to review their current grade standing to predict what needs to be done to achieve the final desired grade.  Any questions about grading should be directed to the Professor as soon as possible to allow sufficient time to resolve any issues.

Due dates and late assignments

All due dates are 11:59 pm ET (Washington, DC time) of the date indicated.  Late submissions will be immediately penalized 10%, plus an additional 10% for each week late.  Due date extensions must be requested and approved prior to the due date otherwise late material may not be accepted.  Material will not be accepted after the last class day of the semester.

Remember the 7 P’s

Graded Activities

  • Informational Post: 20%
  • FEMA EMI IS-802 ESF #2: 10%
  • Final Paper: 30%


Code of Conduct

The George Washington University Code of Academic Integrity is in full effect for all submitted materials regarding this course.  The code can be found at http://www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity/code.html.  Proper information sourcing is often the difference between research and plagiarism so when in doubt reference all source materials.


All submitted work will be assumed to be original thought and material unless otherwise sourced.  Any material that is referenced, cited, sourced or otherwise used for research should be documented.  Any format may be used to document, to include MLA, APA, in-line, end notes and footnotes.  The format selected must be consistently used throughout the product, and allow the reader to locate the specific source material.  Bolstering points and positions using research and authoritative sources will be positively factored into the grading.  Failing to reference source material will reduce the final grade.


Treat everyone and their opinions with respect.  It is ok to disagree; it is not ok to be disagreeable.  The conversational tone should be one that you would use with a peer, higher-up or external client in a business meeting.  Remember that text communication lacks the non-verbal communication cues which can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Attendance & Participation

Attendance at and participation in each class is expected.  Notify the instructor in advance if a class will be missed.  Missing four classes may result in a zero for the attendance and participation grade.


Class Schedule

Date # Topic
January 10, 2011 1 Introductions & Expectations. Definitions and foundation setting.

Scenario driven uses of technology during disasters.

Jan 17   Martin Luther King Jr. Day (no classes)
Jan 24 2 Information types, management, format, standards, storage and breakdowns.
Jan 31 3 Public notifications and social media.
Feb 7 4 Intro to communications

FEMA EMI Course Test taken on Blackboard.

Feb 14 5 Satellite communications

Post Information Piece to Blackboard.

Feb 21   President’s Day (no classes)
Feb 28 6 Student Presentations; Radio communications
Mar 7 7 Student Presentations; EOC technologies
Mar 14-19   Spring break, no class
Mar 21 8 Introduction to GIS
Mar 28 9 Guest Speaker #1
Apr 4 10 GIS as a decision making tool; GIS exercise (take home)

Student papers due

Apr 11 11 Guest Speaker #2

Applications & vendors

Apr 18 12 Federal/State/Local resources
Apr 25 13 Cyber Security, Autonomous Systems, and Robot Technology
Apr 27 (Wed) 14 Student Choice

Last Class Day of the Semester

May 2   Final exam (if needed)


Guest Speakers

Guest speakers are arranged to bring a “subject matter expert” opinion into the course.  Students are encouraged to bring questions for guest speakers to connect other discussions with the speaker’s presentations.  Guest speakers also provide an opportunity for some students to network and find professional opportunities.

Student Choice

The last class of the semester is “student choice”.  The class topic is selected by the students to cover an area most of the students are interested in learning, and is not covered in any of the previous classes.  It will be taught by the instructor.  If other classes are cancelled due to inclement weather (or other reasons), this may be bumped for a previously scheduled topic.

Technical Standards & File Formats

All documents produced must be provided in plain text (.txt), rich text (.rtf), MS Word (.doc/.docx) or Acrobat text (.pdf).  It is preferred that all materials be embedded in a single document.  If this is not possible, then discuss with the Professor the best format to provide the materials.  This is a technology class; all submissions must be done on Blackboard or sent to the Professor via email.  Paper copies will not be accepted.

This Professor does not accept nor like Power Point presentations.  It is a public speaking crutch that should be avoided whenever possible.  However, this does not mean that other audio visual support is not allowed.

Information Piece: Educating peers and expressing opinion

Each student will post an information piece (similar to a blog entry) about a technology and how it is used on a disaster.  This should be timely and based on a news article, tweet, blog or event; and expanded to include your opinion.  The more specific the technology being discussed, the better.  For example, “VSAT” or “social networking” would be too broad but “ABC’s Zebra Auto-acquire VSAT” or “XYZ’s online survivor tracking via Twitter” would be fine.  Assume that the readers are equally technically savvy.

Consider the following questions when reading and writing, however these may not be applicable to all pieces and are not meant to be a writing checklist:

  • Who make it? Is it proprietary or open source?
  • What are the benefits?  Why would this be used?
  • Who can use it?  Is it in use now or is this a forward looking technology?
  • Is it practical?  What are the barriers that may prevent it being used?
  • What is the total cost, cost per unit, or cost per person helped?


Post your piece on BlackBoard to for all to review.  Check syllabus for due date.  All other students are expected to make comments and have discussions on each of the posts during the remainder of the semester.  Agreement or disagreement on the topic is fine as long as positions are well supported.  This is an electronic submission therefore paper copies are neither needed nor accepted.


Selection of timely topic about a technology and how it is used in a disaster

3 points

Taking the information found into the research and adding original information of a potential new use.

4 points
Writing and Professionalism

Clear, concise, and well written product.

Free of grammatical and spelling errors.

3 points


Online FEMA EMI IS-802 ESF #2

Each student must complete the FEMA EMI Independent study course that details ESF #2 Communications.  At the end of this online course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the overall purpose and scope of ESF #2.
  • Identify the supplemental assistance ESF #2 provides to State, tribal, and local governments.
  • Identify typical actions accomplished by ESF #2 resources and teams.
  • Describe the types of partnerships formed between ESF #2 and other response agencies and organizations.


This training is available at the following link: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS802.asp

Upon completion of the course, take test on Blackboard.  This is not the same test as at the end of the EMI IS course.  The test is worth 10 points for 10% of the total grade.

Presentation: Pitching technology to non-technology management

A common challenge in emergency management is having technical people pitch a technical solution in a meaningful way to non-technical management and peers.  This scenario is being given a short time frame to make an initial concept pitch to management and peers.

Identify a technological solution that can bridge a gap, fix a problem or somehow benefit risk, crisis or emergency management.  The solution should either currently exist or be reasonably pulled together from existing systems.  Each student will make a presentation where they are doing an initial concept pitch.  The class will take on the role of a set of non-technical internal peers and the instructor will take the role of the presenter’s non-technical manager, therefore technical jargon should be explained or simplified.  The goal is to present the solution clearly and concisely so the team believes that additional effort to explore this is warranted.

The following points are recommended to be included, but all may not apply to all presentations:

  • Highlight the problem or gap.
  • What is the proposal?  What will it do for us?  Why should we care?
  • Explain it without the “technical mumbo-jumbo”.
  • How much will it cost?  What is the ROI?
  • What is the risk involved to do (or not do) this?
  • What are the next series of steps to be done by this group? (Note that if you want someone to do something, you need to ask.)

Students may not cover the same exact topic.  First come, first served.  Post your topic on BlackBoard to claim it as your own and your preferred time slot to present.  Check the syllabus or Blackboard for the exact, available presentation dates.  The Professor will do an open review after each set of presentations.  This will raise the expectations of the next set of presenters to better refine their content and style.

Presentations may be up to 7 minutes long followed by 3 minutes of questions.  Handouts and white boarding are acceptable.  Projected PowerPoint slides may not be used.  Presenters will be stopped at 7 minutes.

Final Paper: Analysis and recommended solution

Identify a technological solution that can bridge a gap, fix a problem or somehow benefit risk, crisis or emergency management.  The solution should either currently exist or be reasonably pulled together from existing systems.  The paper can be built upon the presentation topic.  The scenario is writing a “business quality” paper that analyzes the issue, evaluates options, and proposes a solution. 

The student will be writing this paper as if it was their job and a project they would lead should the proposal be accepted.   Outline the issue.  Describe the solutions.  Briefly compare this solution to other alternatives, remembering that doing nothing is always an alternative.  The same recommended points for the presentation may apply here.  Justify how the selected solution is worth the time, effort and cost.  The goal is to convince the reader to approve this proposal.

Just as in business, there is no dictated minimum length, maximum length or writing style.  The length and style should be appropriate.  This is an electronic submission therefore paper copies are neither needed nor accepted.  Microsoft Word (*.doc or *.docx) files are preferred; plain text, rich text and other word processor formats are also acceptable.  Adobe Acrobat (*.pdf) and other formats that do not allow markups and comments in MS Word are not acceptable.

Meeting the Requirements

Identification of currently existing problem and analyze the issues.

Identification of a possible solution and two alternative solutions.

Make a recommendation and request action from the reader.

45 points

Appropriate sourcing of materials used.

Minimum of three authoritative sources used.

15 points
Writing and Professionalism

Clear, concise, and well written product.

Free of grammatical and spelling errors.

Logically presented and well-focused

15 points