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This book explores the extent to which our government actually learns from disasters, whether humanly caused, from aviation security fiascoes to terrorism, or natural, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Political scientists have well documented the role of disasters in setting policy agendas--in getting policymakers to think about the problem--but do they take then next step and actually improve policies through new legislation or regulations as a result? Birkland examines when and how a cataclysmic event serves as a catalyst for policy changes. He probes the necessary conditions, including media attention, salience for a large portion of the public, the existence of advocacy groups for the issue, and the preexistence of policy ideas that can be drawn upon. He identifies three types of policy change: change in the larger social construction of the issues surrounding the disaster; instrumental, in which laws and regulations are enacted; and political, in which alliances are created and shifted. In looking at the four areas of aviation security, September 11, earthquakes, and hurricanes, Birkland identifies similarities and differences in the degrees to which lessons are learned, depending in part on the type of the disaster and the kinds of interest groups involved. He concludes with a look at the interplay of disasters by looking at the initial government responses to Hurricane Katrina and the negative effect that the September 11 catastrophe seems to have had on any potential response to that natural disaster.
About the Author
Thomas A. Birkland is the William T. Kretzer Professor of Public Policy in the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University. He is the author of After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events.