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Article

Zachary R. Lewis, Kathryn L. Schwaeble, and Thomas A. Birkland

The September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States were a focusing event that greatly increased attention to particularly large acts of terrorism as a threat to the United States and to particular interests. One of these interests is the aviation industry. The September 11 attacks exploited features of the aviation industry that made it prone to attack and that made an attack on this industry particularly vivid and attention-grabbing. The September 11 attacks led to policy changes in the United States and around the world with respect to aviation security, but those changes were not made in a vacuum. The changes that followed the September 11 attacks were made possible by efforts to learn from the range of aviation security incidents and challenges that have faced commercial aviation throughout its history. While the September 11 attacks were shocking and seemed novel, prior experience with aviation security crises provided those working in the aviation security policy realm with potential responses. The responses were drawn from a set of politically feasible responses that addressed the lapses in security demonstrated by terrorist attacks. The history of policy changes related to terrorism in aviation parallel the changes to policies that were made across the board in response to the elevation of terrorism on the agenda.

Article

Thomas A. Birkland and Kathryn L. Schwaeble

Agenda setting is a crucial aspect of the public policy process. Sudden, rare, and harmful events, known as focusing events, can be important influences on the policy process. Such events can reveal current and potential future harms, mobilize people and groups to address the policy failures that may be revealed by such events, and open the “window of opportunity” for intensive policy discussion and potential policy change. But focusing events operate differently at different times and in different policy domains. Although the idea of focusing events is firmly rooted in Kingdon’s “streams approach” to the policy process, focusing events are an important element of most contemporary theories of the policy process. But not every event works as a focusing event. The process by which a focusing event can yield policy change is complex and involves attention to the problems revealed by the event as well as evidence of learning from the event on the part of policymakers. Although focusing events are important, in many ways the concept remains underdeveloped, with few researchers seeking to understand the dynamics of these important events.