When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster

Be the coolest head in any situation by honing your instincts on how to prepare for, react to, and recover from disaster.
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Learn the fundamentals of preparation, reaction, and recovery in emergency situations.


Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen

I will show you the essentials of disaster preparedness as we draw lessons from calamities that have affected big cities and small towns across the United States.


Radford University

Stephen Owen is a Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University. He earned his PhD in Political Science from the University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL). He also holds a BS in Criminal Justice from Southeast Missouri State University and an MA in Political Science from UMSL. His studies focused on the links between criminal justice, public policy, public administration, and urban affairs. Professor Owen has also collaborated with the professional emergency management community, including as chair of the New River Valley Regional Local Emergency Planning Committee, a member of the board of directors for the Virginia Emergency Management Association, and a planning team member for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Tabletop Exercise for Institutions of Higher Education.


Professor Owen has published on a variety of topics related to criminal justice, including institutional corrections, interpersonal violence, criminal justice education, law and sexuality, and law enforcement policy issues. Most recently, his work has focused on issues related to emergency management, with a particular focus on the public safety community’s response to active shooter incidents.


Professor Owen has received the Radford University Foundation’s Distinguished Creative Scholar Award and Distinguished Service Award as well as Radford University’s College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award. In addition, he was recognized by his undergraduate alma mater, Southeast Missouri State University, with a Young Alumni Merit Award. At Radford University, Professor Owen regularly teaches the course Emergency Management. He has also developed unique course offerings, including Active Harmer Incidents in the United States and Investigating the Kennedy Assassination.


Professor Owen is coauthor of Foundations of Criminal Justice and has authored or coauthored more than 80 book chapters, articles, proceedings, encyclopedia entries, and reviews.

By This Professor

When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster
When Everything Fails: Surviving Any Disaster


How Prepared Are You for a Disaster?

01: How Prepared Are You for a Disaster?

Welcome to your journey of preparedness! Begin your course with a self-assessment. Explore the different types of disasters and reflect on your baseline. Do you know the hazards around you on a regular basis? Do you have plans for shelter or evacuation? What about communication?

31 min
Developing a Preparedness Plan

02: Developing a Preparedness Plan

After reviewing a few basic concepts—such as the difference between an emergency, a disaster, and a catastrophe—Professor Owen walks you through the fundamentals of a good preparedness plan. From identifying risks around you to building physical and digital “go kits,” you are on your way.

31 min
Identifying Hazards and Responses

03: Identifying Hazards and Responses

Prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, recover: This simple framework is a way of thinking, designed around FEMA’s National Preparedness Goal, a recipe for identifying and preparing for potential hazards. From here, the next step is to equip yourself and establish a few practices that will serve you if—or when—disaster strikes.

31 min
Making Decisions in a Disaster

04: Making Decisions in a Disaster

Decision-making is a critical component of surviving a disaster. In an emergency situation, your mind won’t operate like it does in day-to-day life, which is why preparation and planning are so critical. Here, learn to size up emergency situations, guard against “normalcy bias,” and act appropriately under stressful circumstances.

32 min
Essential Lifesaving Skills

05: Essential Lifesaving Skills

Knowing the basics of CPR, first aid, fire extinguishers, and more, might one day save a life—yours or that of someone around you. Take a look at some of the practical skills you would be wise to develop, from operating an AED to shutting off utilities. See where you should look for more comprehensive hands-on training.

30 min
What to Do in a Fire

06: What to Do in a Fire

A fire is one of the most common disasters you might encounter, and one for which you can readily prepare. Learn the basics of fire safety, from developing a home fire safety plan to specific things you can do to reduce your risk of fire in the home. This lecture also shows you the fundamentals of how fires work, including flashovers and backdrafts.

32 min
When the Earth Shakes or Opens

07: When the Earth Shakes or Opens

Depending on where you live, earthquakes may pose a serious threat to your life or property, and what makes them so frightening is they can strike without warning. Learn how best to stay safe during and after an earthquake. Then consider two other geologic hazards—volcanos and sinkholes.

31 min
Surviving Hurricanes and Other Storms

08: Surviving Hurricanes and Other Storms

Take a crash course in some of the more common weather hazards, from hurricanes and tornadoes to floods and blizzards. We will all experience extreme weather at some point, and this lecture arms you with information about the dynamics of weather systems as well as precautionary measures you can and should take.

33 min
Coping in an Active Shooter Situation

09: Coping in an Active Shooter Situation

We might associate the word “disaster” with accidents or environmental hazards, but it can also include human-created activity, particularly violence. Active shooter situations are all too common, so preparation is crucial. Here, you will learn about situational awareness and the “run, fight, hide” response.

31 min
Helping Others in a Disaster

10: Helping Others in a Disaster

Shift your attention from specific types of disasters to the way communities respond. As you will find out in this lecture, one “emergent behavior” following a disaster is a sense of community bonding and altruism. Examine a few of the ways you can help after a disaster, from volunteering to donations.

33 min
First Responders and How They Work

11: First Responders and How They Work

In this first lecture of three lectures on community infrastructure, you will review some of the public safety issues typical to many places, as well as how first responders operate within the community. Popular media often mischaracterize the roles of police, firefighters, and emergency medical services, so take a real-world look at what these organizations do in urgent situations.

33 min
The First Responders Many Never See

12: The First Responders Many Never See

Police and firefighters may be on the visible front lines of a disaster scene, but communities require numerous individuals and agencies in order to respond effectively and recover. From scientists researching risks to public works departments or public health officials coordinating recovery, uncover society’s hidden responders.

33 min
How Disaster Response Is Coordinated

13: How Disaster Response Is Coordinated

Delve into the fascinating world of incident command. In the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, federal government officials saw the need for coordination among many players in an emergency. The Incident Command System (ICS) is a set of common languages and procedures that can help us all do our best during and after a disaster.

31 min
The Challenges of Disaster Recovery

14: The Challenges of Disaster Recovery

When disasters strike, urgency pervades as individuals, emergency personnel, and local governments work to respond. But what happens after the crisis has passed? In this final lecture, consider the short- and long-term effects a disaster may have for individuals and communities.

34 min