Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Roger Pielke Jr.

Second Advisor

Samuel Fitch

Third Advisor

Krister P. Andersson

Fourth Advisor

Radford Byerly

Fifth Advisor

David Trinkle


This dissertation capitalizes on an opportunity, untapped until now, to utilize data on disaster losses to appraise natural disaster policy. Through a set of three distinct studies, I use data on economic losses caused by natural disasters in order to analyze trends in disaster severity and answer important disaster policy questions.

The first study reconciles the apparent disconnect between (a) claims that global disaster losses are increasing due to anthropogenic climate change and (b) studies that find regional losses are increasing due to socioeconomic factors. I assess climate change and global disaster severity through regional analyses derived by disaggregating global loss data into their regional components. Economic losses from North American, Asian, European, and Australian storms and floods contribute to 97% of the increase in global economic losses with each region's increasing losses attributed to socioeconomic factors.

The second study evaluates the National Flood Insurance Program and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program with respect to their legislated mandates to reduce economic losses. I evaluate these policies by utilizing a new metric which compares the trend in actual losses exhibited after the enactment of policy, to a projected trend based on losses from the pre-policy era. The trends in actual losses are either increasing at the same rate or a slightly larger rate as the projections from the period prior to the enactment of policy. This suggests there is no discernible evidence that the policies have an impact on reducing losses.

The third study compares the degree to which U.S. federal funding levels for natural disaster research and development (R&D) correspond with the level of documented impact from individual disaster types. Storms cause the greatest human and economic losses in the U.S. however earthquake R&D receives the largest federal funding allocation with storm R&D receiving the second highest level of funding of all disaster types. This suggests there is some correspondence although not complete correspondence between federal funding levels and level of impact from individual disaster types.