Understanding decisions and disasters: A retrospective analysis of Hurricane Sandy’s ‘focusing power’ on climate change adaptation policy in New York City
Disasters such as hurricanes can open a window of opportunity when these act as ‘focusing events’ on the policy agenda. This paper explores the ‘focusing power’ of Hurricane Sandy in the context of New York City during 2012 and beyond. To understand this, the authors ask how, and to what extent, Hurricane Sandy served as a focusing event to open a window of opportunity for the city to reevaluate its climate change adaptation policies.
The authors find that the extent to which a ‘focusing event’ prompts action in any policymaking context may depend heavily on pre-planning and organisational capacity. This is in part reinforced by the nature of disaster itself: demands for immediate action – i.e. emergency response – constrain the ability of policymakers to consider a wide range of options, forcing them to draw on plans and resources that are ready to be activated. As a result, that short window may ultimately constrain the options available to policymakers in terms of long-term adaptation. This impacts the ability of decision-makers to plan for the full array of risks that may be posed by climate change.
By focusing on an event that happened some years ago, the paper is able to reveal mechanisms of policy change over time, both in terms of the actors influencing the actions taken, and the policy options themselves that appear viable. These and other findings create a new space to explore the dynamics at play in event-based decision-making, embedded within the literature on disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and policymaking.