Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. William L. Waugh, Jr. - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Carrie Manning - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Dr. Charles Hankla - Committee Member


Governments are responsible for administrative arrangements dealing with disasters. Effective policies play a vital role in mitigating the impact of disasters and reducing likely losses of life and property. Yet, it had been noted that such losses were increasing, raising questions about efficacy of government policies and the factors that made them effective. This study adopted a comparative method, responding to a long-standing demand of disaster research, for examining the record in India. There were noticeable differences among its states, with some having undertaken comprehensive reform in an all-hazards approach, while others continued with old policies. This research studied four states with the objective of identifying variables that were critical in undertaking policy reform for building capacities. The roles of economic resources, democratically decentralized institutions, political party systems and focusing events were examined. Findings revealed that these factors had varying impact on state capabilities. Economic resources were an inevitable part of disaster management, but did not necessarily translate into policy reform. Panchayati Raj Institutions, which were democratically decentralized bodies, displayed tremendous potential. However, their role was limited mostly to the response phase, with states severely circumscribing their involvement. The nature of political party systems was able to explain policy reform to an extent. Cohesive systems in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Orissa correlated with administrative capacities, unlike in fragmented Bihar. However, anti-incumbency sentiments and strong community mobilization impacted contestation more than electoral salience of public goods. The most nuanced and significant explanation was provided by experience of focusing events. States that suffered major disasters revealed unmistakable evidence of double-loop learning, leading to comprehensive policy reform and capacity building. This research provides empirical support to theory about the role of focusing events and organizational learning in policy reform. Methodologically, it underscores the importance of the comparative approach, and its successful application in a federal framework. The significance of this research is most for policy makers and practitioners, as it serves to alert them on the need for reform without waiting for the next big disaster to catch them unprepared.