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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG): the heart of geography
Is our local area a risky place?
Are some places riskier than others?
How risky is it to live in the UK?
To what extent are some hazard risks made greater by humans?
Can all hazard risk be managed (one)?
Can all hazard risk be managed (two)?
Does location affect how hazard risks are managed?
Risky world - Assessment
Risky world - Using Google Earth

Risky world - To what extent are some hazard risks made greater by humans?

Risky world

In this lesson students carry out an investigation into what extent was Hurricane Katrina was a ‘natural’ disaster?

Key questions

  • To what extent was Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster?

Key Concepts

  • Interdependence
  • Cultural understanding and diversity
  • Human and physical processes

To what extent was Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster?

Hurricane Katrina’s scale (the storm was 500km across) and magnitude (wind speeds as high as 240km/s) meant that even though its path veered away from New Orleans at the last minute it still had a huge impact on the city as well as devastating the Alabama coast. 

The magnitude and scale of Katrina was a key factor as the flood defences were rendered ineffective. Unusually high sea temperatures in the Gulf or Mexico (possible an effect of global warming) helped build Katrina into Category five storm when defences were only built to withstand a category three hurricane.  The distribution of the population throughout the region is responsible for much of the heightened natural hazard risk.

New Orleans is a major urban centre of 485,000 people. It is a hazard prone area that has continued to attract population but as pressure on land has increased, many affluent Americans, oil industries and gambling businesses have moved into areas of hazard risk, whereas several decades ago, it was only the poorest (and often African American) populations that lived in these areas or on and around the levee system. It was parts of the population without the social or economic means to leave the hazard zone in response to the threat of Katrina that became the victims.

Hazard mitigation depends primarily upon the effectiveness of the social response to natural events. Access to cars and the location of homes an impacted on the demographic of those who became victims of the Katrina.

There was no plan to use trains or other mass public transport to evacuate those without cars or money. The most recent census showed that in a city 87% black and 30% poor, there were 112,000 households without private vehicles to escape. 





Download the word circle.

Find as many words as you can to do with risky places - the topic of this module. The words are hidden in the word circle and read left to right as full words.



Much of the US coastline from Louisiana to Alabama was devastated by Katrina. It arrived as a category four storm with winds of over 140mph and a storm surge of six metres. The system of levees and sea walls constructed to protect the low-lying New Orleans coast were breached leading to large parts of the city being flooded. Almost 1200 people drowned in the flood-waters and over a million people were made homeless. Thirty thousand national guard and $50 billion were made available for the rescue and recovery programme.

In groups of around four people, your task is to investigate to what extent Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster.

You will look at varied resources prepared by your teacher such as this newspaper article giving different viewpoints on why Hurricane Katrina was a disaster.

To help you think about the views in different ways, you are all going to wear six different coloured hats.

First, download the hats and print all the pages.

Each hat has questions with it (except for the Blue Hat), which you should think about when you are wearing that hat.

One person in each group will wear the Blue Hat. You are in charge of making sure your group sticks to the ‘hat' they should be wearing.

Each group will be given one sheet of A3 paper, one sheet of A4 paper, a black, yellow, purple and green pen and one red pen per person and the news article and any other resources.

First everyone read the newspaper article to get an overview.

One person in the group writes down all the black-hat information from the article, using the black pen. This information should be brainstormed onto the piece of A3 paper.

Everyone wearing the red hat, brainstorm, using the red pen, all your red-hat answers onto the sheet of A3 paper - in silence as it is a ‘gut reaction' round.

Then wear the yellow hat and using the single yellow pen, repeat.

Then wear the purple hat and using the single purple pen, repeat.

On the sheet of A4, using the green pen, one of you should record all the green-hat ideas.

The ‘blue hat' should now feedback their group's ideas to the whole class.

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