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Educational Resources

Lesson 1 - What is a Canadian Disaster


In this lesson students will define what a Canadian disaster is. They will seek out criteria for making that kind of determination and then look at 15 actual Canadian disasters to see why they were classified as major disasters.


  1. Bookmark the SOS! Canadian Disasters website

  2. Print Handout 1.1 Comparison Chart of Canadian Disasters and Handout 1.2 Ranking of the 15 Canadian Disasters on the SOS! Canadian Disasters Website and make copies for your students.


90 minutes (not including the extension activity which will require about 60 minutes.)


  1. Before the students launch into any research or projects they need a common definition for what constitutes a "national" or "major" disaster. Divide your class into groups of three students.

    Ask each group to come up with four or five criteria (rules or standards for making a rule or judgement) for selecting a disaster as a national or major disaster.

  2. After they have finished their definitions direct them to the Canadian Disaster Database

    Compare their definitions with this official one:

    Many hazardous events occur in Canada each year, but determining which qualify for inclusion in the disaster database can be difficult. To simplify this process, a series of inclusion criteria are used. Any event which impacts Canadians directly can be included in the CDD for any of the following reasons:

    • 10 or more people killed
    • 100 or more people affected/injured/evacuated or homeless
    • an appeal for national/international assistance
    • historical significance
    • significant damage/interruption of normal processes such that the community affected cannot recover on its own

  3. Assign each group with one of these categories of disasters - Air, Water, Fire, Earth, and Ice.

  4. Give three copies of Handout 1.1 Comparison Chart of Canadian Disasters to each group. Using the information provided on SOS! Canadian Disasters website they should now fill in the charts provided for their three Canadian disasters.

  5. When all the groups have completed the charts for their type of disasters call upon each group to present their finding to the class. Discuss the results and summarize what your students have learned about Canadian disasters.

  6. Ask each group to rank their three events in order of significance

Extension Activity

Ask the whole class to rank all 15 events. Use Handout 1.2 Ranking of the 15 Canadian Disasters on the SOS! Canadian Disasters Website.

Assessment Opportunities

  1. Did he/she participate cooperatively in group and class discussions?

  2. Was the Handout 1.1 Comparison Chart of Canadian Disasters completed thoroughly with clear, detailed answers?

  3. Did he/she work efficiently and cooperatively on the computer and Internet to find the required information?

  4. Has she/he demonstrated knowledge of what a "Canadian disaster" is, the criteria for defining what it is, and an understanding of some actual Canadian disasters and why they are considered major Canadian disasters?