Hurricane Sandy and Managed Retreat: Analyzing Natural Disasters’ Potential as Focusing Events

May 2020
Emma Uebelhor

Scientists estimate that by 2050 rising sea levels will place over 800 million people around the world at risk for regular flooding events, infrastructure damage and, in some extreme cases, complete submersion. As a result, many communities throughout the world are considering managed retreat policies that encourage coastal residents to relocate to higher and safer ground. However, these policies are notoriously controversial and difficult to implement without strong public support. This paper conducts a case study using Kingdon’s multiple streams framework to compare two New York City neighborhoods’ readiness for managed retreat following Hurricane Sandy in order to answer the following question: how, and under what conditions, can natural disasters operate as windows of opportunity for managed retreat policy implementation? Through an in-depth analysis of the problem, proposed policy, and politics in both communities, this paper concludes that with prompt, collaborative action following novel flooding events, communities may be more receptive to and willing to participate in managed retreat programs.