Lesson 4: Natural Hazards


The UN makes an important distinction in the terminology we use to describe natural disasters. They claim that events such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes are natural hazards. They become disasters when humans are affected because they are unprepared. With the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2005, 168 countries took steps to focus on disaster prevention instead of only response. In this unit participants will learn about what prevention means and what they can do about it.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the effects of climate change on natural hazards and what danger it poses to humans
  • Evaluate actions being taken to prevent disasters
  • Apply understanding to prepare themselves in the case of a hazard

Chalice Lighting

(5 minutes)

Use the words below or one you find yourself.

We light this Unitarian Universalist chalice
with open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.


(5-10 minutes)

Go around in a circle or have participants randomly share how their week has been. Remind them to be respectful of whatever each person has to share and to keep their thoughts brief. It is important to make a space where everyone feels safe and comfortable and to respect where each person is coming from that day. If time allows, go around twice; once for news and once for joys and sorrows. It is important that the leaders participate in the check-in to build a relationship with the participants.


(10-15 minutes)

Read the story collected by the World Wildlife Fund. This story is about natural hazards creating more problems for people living in small island states. You can read or summarize the scientific review for your participants. You can discuss how climate change has caused Ben to take action and change the course of his life to work against it.


Extreme Weather in Your Area

(10 minutes)


It’s easy to think of extreme storms, droughts, etc. as something that happen in other places and we are only exposed to them through the news. However, the climate is changing all over the world and we are all being affected.


  • Computer with internet access (optional)
  • Projector (optional)


Blank space for projection.


  1. If possible, project the map of the extreme weather in the U.S. last year. You can also print out copies to share. Show both the US as a whole and your individual state. Ask your participants if they remember any of the events or any other weather events covered in the news in the past year.
  2. Talk about how climate change could be related to some of the events. Point out that is normal to have weird weather sometimes, but the prevalence of it is caused by climate change. If there have been fires in your area or drought talk about the warming of the atmosphere drying things out. The warmer air can hold more moisture, so drier areas get drier and wetter areas get wetter.


(20-30 minutes)


Hurricanes are some of the most lethal storms on Earth, and they are also some of the most affected by climate change. They form over warm water in the ocean, usually near the equator. However, as ocean temperatures and levels rise because of the greenhouse effect, there are more and more areas in the ocean with conditions ideal for creating hurricanes. They also become more severe and cause more damage because they occur in areas that are unprepared because they have never experienced the storms before. For a basic explanation of hurricane foration, go to NASA's page on hurricanes. For more details about climate change and hurricanes, go to the Climate & Global Dynamics Division (CGD) page on hurricanes.


  • Printer (optional)
  • Tubs or bowls (enough for one every two or three participants)
  • Paper clips (enough for one every two or three participants)
  • String (enough for one every two or three participants)
  • Tap water
  • Spoons or stirring sticks (enough for one every two or three participants)


Preferably outside, on the floor, or at tables.


  1. Explain the formation of hurricanes. Start by asking participants what they know about hurricanes. Then give an overview of the information in the background section of this activity and the links provided.
  2. Print out pictures of hurricanes. You can use NASA's Image Catalog or images that you find on your own. Pass them out to participants and ask them to identify parts of the storm (eye, clouds, direction of spin, etc.). Go around to help participants and have them pass the pictures on once they’re done looking at them.
  3. Break the participants up into pairs or groups of three. Give each group a bowl or tub with a few inches of water in it, a piece of string, a paper clip, and a stirring stick or spoon. Have them tie the string to the paper clip. Then have one person stir the water with a stick or spoon quickly in a circle. Once it has formed a whirlpool, or hurricane, have another student place the paper clip with string in the water. The participants can experiment with placing it in different places in the storm to find the fastest and slowest spots.
  4. After about 10 minutes of experimenting, have the participants discuss what they learned about how powerful a hurricane is and where it is fastest. Ask them to think about the damage it could do and the cost of that. Have them relate their ideas to climate change and how these powerful storms are becoming more and more common.
  5. When cleaning up the activity pour the water on plants instead of down the drain.


(about 60 minutes)

NOTE: This activity is ideal if you have a long class period or one extra session. Otherwise, it can be left out and the others completed instead.


Preventing hazards from turning into disasters is a very complex task, and this board game created by UNICEF and UNISDR (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) helps the participants understand some of the things that must be taken into consideration when preparing for hazards.


  • Game boards (enough for every four to six participants)
  • Tokens (coins, beans, etc.) (one for every student)
  • 24 question cards (a set for every four to six participants)
  • 24 surprise cards (a set for every four to six participants)
  • Rule sheet (one for every four to six participants)
  • Dice (one for every four to six participants)


  1. Go to the educational kit and riskland game and print the necessary copies of the parts of the game. If possible, laminate the boards, cards, and rules for future use.
  2. Break the participants up into groups of four to six participants. Go over the rules of the game with the whole group then circulate between groups as the participants play. When all the groups have gotten all their players across the finish line (or when each group has one winner if you are short on time) have the participants come back to the big group and discuss the game. Was it hard to do everything right? What did they think of the surprise cards? Was it realistic? Did they learn about anything they should do help with prevention?

Disaster Prevention in Your Community

(20-25 minutes)


The point of disaster prevention is not to instill fear in anyone but more to increase awareness and comfort in a safety plan. In this activity participants will understand what the safety plan is at their fellowship and what they should have at home in case of an emergency (water, canned goods, blankets, shovels, etc.). If you only need a short activity to fill up the class, stop after step 3. If you have more time, continue through to step 6.


  • Your building’s safety manual or equivalent instructions


Space where everyone can see the person talking. Access to the main hallways of your building.


  1. Review your fellowship’s plan in case of an emergency. You can talk to your administrator before the lesson about the procedures for various evacuations, but focus on natural hazards. Ask about emergency supplies too.
  2. Briefly explain to your participants the types of natural hazards in your area and how they are affected by climate change.
  3. If available, take down the posted map giving emergency instructions and outlining evacuation procedures. Go over the instructions with your participants.
  4. Have them practice evacuation. They should use whatever route is posted if possible. If you want, you can also instruct the participants to duck and cover before evacuating if time allows or if you live in area prone to earthquakes or tornadoes.
  5. Show the participants what there is in the way of emergency supplies and where they can be found.
  6. Come back to the classroom or equivalent space and discuss the drill. Do they have any questions? What plans do they have at home? What emergency supplies should they have access to?

NOTE: Throughout the activity emphasize that the participants should not be afraid. They should respect the power of natural hazards, but the most important thing is to be prepared.


(10 minutes)

Have the student check in about their DOT projects. Do they have questions? What is hard? What is easy?


Have one student extinguish the chalice while everyone reads the closing words.

We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth,
the warmth of community,
or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.