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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Teaching Disasters


Last Monday, I read a story in the Helena newspaper about flooding near Townsend.

It made me remember the really devastating floods last year—and other earlier floods.

It also reminded me that disasters can be important “teachable moments” and offer a way to engage students in larger questions. For example:

  • What role did policy and human decisions play in either exacerbating or mitigating the disaster (e.g., building codes and earthquakes; zoning regulations and the construction of dams for floods; federal policy for fires)?
  • How did infrastructure (or lack of infrastructure) help or hinder disaster response? 
  • Do disasters affect everyone equally or do race and social class play a role in who suffers most? 
  • How did the community pull together in the immediate aftermath of a disaster? 
  • Did the disaster change policy, and if so, what were the consequences, both intended and unintended?
  • What should be the role of government in community planning and disaster relief? For example, should people be allowed to build in the woods? If they do, and there’s a forest fire, should the government spend resources on protecting private property?

Interested in pursuing this topic further? Here are a few references/links:

The Educator Resources Page for Chapter 12 (“Logging the High Lonesome”) of  Montana: Stories of the Land has lots of links discussing the 1910 fires and fire policy.

MHS has also created this bibliography on fire policy for students doing research.

The USGS has gathered information on earthquakes in Montana from 1925 to 2007.

Montana The Magazine of Western History published an article on how the 1964 flood affected the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, “Montana’s Worst Natural Disaster,” by Aaron Parrett (Summer 2004): 20-31 (check your library).

The Helena Independent Record put together a photo gallery, “Montana’s Flooded Past.”

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