Law & Disaster Risk Reduction Course

Upskill in disaster law to support preparations for effective disaster response & recovery

Gain an understanding of how law intersects with disaster to effectively deliver preparations for disaster response and recovery. With a focus on disaster law in Aotearoa New Zealand, upskill online with our University of Canterbury Institute of Law, Emergencies and Disasters (LEAD) experts.

Developed by Dr John Hopkins and the LEAD team members from Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury. 
Two people in high-vis jackets working at computers on law and disaster risk reduction


Having a handle on the law is crucial when preparing for disasters and reducing the risk of harmful impacts for communities and organisations.

Join us online to equip yourself with an understanding of how disaster and law intersect around the globe, with a specific focus on disaster law in Aotearoa New Zealand. You'll explore the role of law and its interaction with disaster management, and how to use disaster law frameworks for disaster planning and disaster governance.

You'll gain an understanding of the use of emergency powers and human rights in disasters – and the dangers that poor legal frameworks can create for people and communities. This knowledge can be used when working in the field of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster risk management (DRM) as an emergency management professional or volunteer.

Developed by academics from the award-winning University of Canterbury Institute of Law, Emergencies and Disasters (LEAD) this online course provides the legal insight you need to effectively prepare for disaster response and recovery. 

This course is ideal for
  • Emergency management and volunteer staff working for disaster-management organisations, such as regional and local councils or government agencies
  • Policy advisors
  • Organisational leaders, planners and facility managers
  • Health, safety and wellbeing or risk management professionals
  • People with an interest in disaster management and emergency preparedness 

What you'll learn

  • The concept of law and its interaction with disaster management
  • How domestic disaster law frameworks integrate with and are influenced by international disaster law principles and agreements
  • The use of emergency powers and human rights in disasters
  • How to address particular population requirements through disaster law, particularly Māori, Pacific people and women.
  • How to use legal preparedness in disaster planning and disaster governance

Course outline

Our courses are flexible, enabling you to plan your study around your other commitments. You can choose to study when it suits you during the learning period (7 October – 8 December, with a one-week study break from 4-10 November), followed by a 2-week review period for marking and feedback (9 –22 December).

We recommend completing around 6 hours of study a week during the learning period (excluding the study break) – you can view the course overview here for more details on assessment timings. 

Module 1: Why Law Matters in Disasters
Learn about the importance of disasters and their management to modern societies, exploring the concepts of disaster, law, and the disaster cycle as a process.

Module 2: The Concept of Disaster Law
Learn the key elements and fundamental principles of both international and domestic disaster law, exploring global 'soft law' frameworks, the challenges of establishing formal international frameworks, and examples of regional and bi-lateral cooperation.

Module 3: Vulnerability and Human Rights
Learn the concept of vulnerability and human rights and how they can be used in the disaster context to mitigate the impact of disasters on those who are vulnerable.

Module 4: Gender Equity and Indigenous Peoples
Learn how human vulnerability is shaped by circumstances, with some groups more susceptible due to social roles or historical injustices, including gender-based assumptions and the impacts of colonisation on Indigenous Peoples.

Module 5: Prevention and Preparedness
Learn about the critical role of law in disaster prevention and preparedness, elements of the disaster cycle that often precede the events themselves and may not typically be classified as 'disaster law'.

Module 6: Response for Disasters
Explore the need for exceptional government powers in the immediate aftermath of emergencies like earthquakes and floods. You'll examine the limits of ordinary governmental authority, the extent of necessary emergency powers for effective response, and the crucial balance to maintain democratic integrity.

Module 7: Recovery for Disasters
Explore the keys to disaster resilience and the importance of long-term recovery strategies. Learn how legal preparedness, through robust frameworks and clear command lines, enhances resilience by efficiently managing disasters before they occur.

  • End of course quiz = 20% 
  • Graded discussion and peer review = 40%
  • Disaster law report = 40%

Upon successful completion of the course you will be issued a digital badge to recognise your learning achievements. This can take up to 2 months to be delivered after the marking and feedback period.


If you're under 20 years old, you’ll need University Entrance or an equivalent to enrol. If you’re aged 20 or older, you can usually gain entry through 20+ admission so long as: 

  • You are a citizen or hold a NZ Residence Class Visa of New Zealand or Australia, or are a citizen of the Cook Islands, Tokelau, or Niue; and 
  • Are 20 years of age or older by the official course start date.

You'll also need to be confident listening, reading and writing in English.

Technology requirements

We recommend a laptop or desktop computer and a reliable internet connection. For most courses you'll need to download and complete assignments. These are usually available in Microsoft Word.

Course fees

Course fees must be paid before learning can begin, either via online credit-card payment, or by contacting to request an invoice. Please note: fixed invoice payment dates apply, so we recommend getting in touch with us as soon as possible to request an invoice, as this option is subject to availability.

Group discounts

Get your colleagues together to take advantage of our group discounts: 

  • 10% for 3 - 6 learners
  • 15% for 7+ learners

Contact our Partnerships Manager to learn more and enquire now.

Minimum enrolment threshold

Please note: Tuihono UC | UC Online has a minimum enrolment threshold that must be met to enable opportunities for interaction, discussion, and feedback. If the minimum number of enrolments required for a course is not met, enrolled students will be given the option to defer their enrolment to the next course date, or receive a refund. 

Our people


Dr John Hopkins

Professor | Director of the University of Canterbury Institute of Law, Emergencies and Disasters (LEAD)

John is a Professor of Public Law who specialises in Law and Disasters. His work focusses particularly on Recovery Governance and International Disaster Response Law. He is a co-leader of QuakeCoRE Disciplinary Theme DT3 – Law, Planning, Economics with QuakeCoRE (the New Zealand Centre for Seismic Resilience) and leads the Regulating for Resilience Project under Flagship 3.

He recently co-led the IFRC project developing a Disaster Law database for the Pacific and has undertaken work for BRANZ and the European Union amongst others on various aspects of law and disasters. He is currently the Pacific Editor for the Yearbook of International Disaster Law (Brill).

Other contributors to Law and Disaster Risk Reduction include Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury academics Dr Toni Collins, Dr James Mehigan, Dr Sascha Mueller, Associate Professor Natalie Baird, Professor Annick Masselot, Lecturer Rachael Evans, Research Assistant Holly Faulkner and Tutor Sulaiman Sawary.