Disaster Management course changed the way I perceive the world

Owen griffiths, MSc Disaster Management for Environmental Hazards.jpg

Owen Griffiths graduated from the MSc Disaster Management for Environmental Hazards course and is now Senior Engineer (Flood and Tips Risk Management) for Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, based in Pontypridd. He manages the flood risk for 250,000 residents in a field that covers an ever-changing environment. 

During the BSc (Hons) Geology and Physical Geography course, I found that I enjoyed the subjects and specifically how they combined to deal with disasters, hazards, the unpredictable and the unavoidable.

After completing the BSc course, the MSc Disaster Management for Environmental Hazards course provided a way for me to develop my passion further. It has also ended up providing me with a possible career option, by allowing me to start working towards managing awe-inspiring events and ultimately achieve a career in flood risk management.

My favourite part of the course was learning about the management of geological and technological hazards. This module covered the range of tectonic hazards and the associated risk from technological sites, ie, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, oil spills, chemical plants, the Great Smog of ‘52 and a variety of other unique events. It also explored the bridge between natural and manmade disasters that have shaped the world in which we live today. This emphasised how you can learn from the worst that the universe has to offer and really lends itself to the simple phrase, ‘through darkness comes light.’

The summer school was a unique experience. I would sum it up as frustrating because of the lack of communication about the school – I hate to be unprepared! It was only after the event that I really reflected on the experience and found that the whole point of it was to immerse the student in a situation where they are unprepared, so they can go through the psychological experiences that could afflict any person caught up in a humanitarian crisis.

The field work offered on this degree really did help to sell the course, specifically the ‘Geogers Three Peaks Challenge.' How many opportunities do you have to climb three active volcanoes in 10 days? I even got to see a volcanic eruption up close and personal – standing over the crater!

However, it’s not all fun and games – there was also a lot of opportunity for personal development on the field course. What I enjoyed most was the variety of learning environments available to us. For example, on one day, I was leading a class of undergraduates on the slopes of Mt Etna, being asked questions while I demonstrated geothermal energy potential and we discussed the cost benefits for living in a high-risk volcanic zone. The very next day, we were in the port area of Augusta, talking about tsunami risks and how hazard surveys can be used to better inform residents of their risk.

The placement experiences were priceless. I don’t think I would be where I am today without the opportunities and experiences I gained on my placement, and the introduction to professional societies, specifically the Emergency Planning Society (of which I currently sit on the executive board of the Welsh branch). The experiences highlighted how risk is managed on a daily basis within the public sector, while highlighting the budgetary impacts that restrict the implementation of risk management.

The most memorable experience of this course has to be watching a volcanic eruption above the Crater of Stromboli – the only thing missing was a pack of marshmallows!

The lecturers were a great team with a wide range of knowledge, experiences and skills. They pushed us out of our comfort zones and managed to bring out the best in each of us.

Ultimately, the course has changed the way I perceive the world. It opened my mind to a new way of thinking during the most adverse of situations and reminds me that every action has a consequence.