Student Guide - Know Your Risks

What does it take to make it through a disaster? How can a community not only survive an extreme event—but continue to thrive? The answer is resilience, defined as the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.

In this module, you’ll consider what makes individuals and communities resilient—or vulnerable—and help your team understand the risks we all live with.

Know Your Role


For this activity, you will take on the role of a character in a community. Use your imagination to build a story around your character.

Key Resources

Character List

Printable Character Name Tags

1.     Draw a quick sketch of your character.

2.     Write 1-2 sentences introducing yourself as you would at a community meeting.

3.     What strengths do you have that would help you get through a disaster (or allow you to help others)? List three.  

4.     What are some vulnerabilities that could cause trouble for you during a disaster (or how might you depend on others for help)? List three.

5.     Introduce yourself to your team (in character) and share your lists of strengths and weaknesses.

Build Your Knowledge


Work with your team to research resilience and learn about the different types of disasters.

1.     Watch the video below titled “Are You Resilient?” 

Additional Resources (optional):

In these short videos, hear how different experts define resilience.

What is Resilience

Disaster Resilience, featuring Gerry Galloway

Introducing Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience

Disaster Resilience, featuring Stephen Flynn


2.     Divide the following disaster types among your team members. Each disaster type must be assigned to at least one team member, and each team member must take at least one disaster type.

Work on your own to collect basic information about the disaster types. Use the provided links as a starting place, but feel free to supplement with information from other websites.

Disaster Type: ___________________

a.     What causes this type of disaster?

b.     What geographic or demographic conditions might make a community especially vulnerable to this disaster?

c.     How might this disaster threaten infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, power lines, etc.)?

d.     How might this disaster threaten people’s safety?

e.     What might a city need to do to begin recovery in the immediate aftermath of this disaster?

f.      What are some possible long-term effects (those lasting more than a year after the disaster)?

3.     Report back to your team to share what you learned. Questions for discussion:

a.     What are some key similarities/differences among the different types of disaster?

b.     Reflect on the video, “What is Resilience?” Is it possible to become resilient to multiple different types of disasters at the same time? How?

Set the Scene


Your team will represent a specific city. Work together to learn about where you live and consider how your location affects your vulnerability to disaster.

Key Resources

Google Maps: Find your city and explore its landmarks.

National Weather Service: Find past weather trends.

City: ___________________

1.     What are the main weather patterns in your location (winter, spring, summer, fall)?

2.     List some key geographic features (such as mountains, bodies of water, etc.).

3.     Briefly describe the city’s population.

4.     On a separate sheet of paper, draw a quick sketch of the city. Note the locations of major geographic features, population centers, downtown/business areas, and major historic or cultural landmarks.

5.     Has the city experienced any major disasters in the past? If so, briefly describe their causes and how they affected the area and its people.


Identify Your Risks


Think about which disasters pose the greatest threat to your area.

1.     Watch the video titled “What is Risk? The 30,000 foot perspective.

2.     On a separate sheet of paper, create a matrix like the one below.

Think about the risk and potential impact of different disasters occurring in your city over the next 10 years. Work as a team to decide where each disaster type belongs in the matrix.

It’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen over the next 10 years, so there aren’t strict right and wrong answers here. Your job is to make your best guess about the likely risk/impact of each disaster relative to the other disaster types, based on what you know about your location and the types of disaster.

Key Resources:

U.S. Disaster Map: Explore the frequency of disaster in different parts of the country as you select and deselect different disaster types. 

U.S. Flood Map: Find state-specific information about flooding risk.

Reducing Coastal Risks on the East and Gulf Coasts: Watch a short video on the dangers faced by cities built along the coast.

Blank Matrix:

Example Completed Matrix:


Consider Uncertainty


Learn about our changing world and consider how future changes might impact your location. Explore how communities can make decisions in the face of change and uncertainty.  

1.     Working on your own, investigate these web resources on Climate Change.

Key Resources:  

Impacts of Climate Change: Explore pages on Weather, People & Society, and other topics.

Responses to Climate Change: Explore pages on Mitigating and Adapting to climate change.

Additional Resources (optional):

Surging Seas: Enter your location to see how rising sea levels might affect flooding risk in your area.

Sea-level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington : Watch a short video to understand changing sea levels and predictions for the future.

2.     Report back to your team to share what you learned. Questions for discussion:

a.     What are some of the ways climate change might impact your location? How might these impacts affect your city’s vulnerability to disasters?

b.     Which mitigation or adaptation efforts are most relevant to your city? How likely is it that such measures will be adopted in the next few years?

3.     As a team, re-evaluate the matrix you created in Step 4. Based on what you have learned about climate change and its potential impacts, would you change your opinion about the expected likelihood or impact of any of the types of disasters? Why or why not?

Share Your Assessment


All of us have something to learn from the experience and expertise of other communities. This wrap-up activity gives you an opportunity to consider how the challenges faced by other communities are similar to or different from your own.

1.     Introduce the characters in your team.

2.     Share your city map and point out key features of your location.

3.     Share your matrix and describe your decision-making process.