CRGC Helps to Build Resiliency Among Gulf Coast Communities
– JULY 29, 2016
(From Summer 2016 Newsletter) Contributing Author: Elizabeth Thornton, CRGC Outreach Coordinator
The Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities (CRGC) is unique among the GoMRI-funded consortia; their efforts primarily focus on assessing and addressing the social, economic, and public health impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by “helping communities across the Gulf Coast to more effectively understand, withstand, and overcome the multitude of stressors brought on by such disasters.”
Consortium Director, Dr. Melissa Finucane, from the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, says her team recognizes that major oil spills affect coastal communities in complex ways: “Disasters affect whole social-ecological systems, sometimes in unexpected and surprising ways. To help coastal communities be more resilient in the future, we need to understand how parts of the system are interlinked and which parts work best together in the face of a disaster.”
CRGC draws on a mixed-methods approach to carry out its various research activities and achieve its three interrelated goals. First, CRGC hopes to build an improved knowledge base about how the local communities were impacted by the spill and what factors contributed to or diminished their resiliency in recovering from the spill. From this information, the Consortium plans to create evidence-based strategic planning and risk communication strategies for communities impacted by the spill and provide guidance for policymakers for mitigating the impacts of future spills more effectively.
Led by the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, CRGC is a multi-discipline, collaborative effort among several institutions, including the Department of Sociology at Louisiana State University, the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy and Department of Computer Science at Tulane University, the Coastal Resource and Resilience Center at the University of South Alabama, and the Louisiana Public Health Institute. The Consortium includes several graduate and undergraduate students, who work collaboratively on each of the smaller Consortium projects or “subteams,” enabling them to play a prominent role in the research activities. A Technical Advisory Committee, made up of experts in the field of disaster resilience and recovery, also helps to provide scientific guidance on the Consortium’s projects and outcomes.
A Focus on the Local Communities
In order to accomplish their mission and address their research questions, many of CRGC’s projects focus on three local Gulf Coast communities. Bayou La Batre, Alabama; Port Sulfur, Louisiana (in Plaquemines Parish); and Galliano, Louisiana (in Lafourche Parish) were carefully selected based on a variety of attributes, including level of oil spill exposure and socioeconomic reliance on the Gulf. Additionally, CRGC has created state-level Stakeholder Advisory Committees (SAC) in Alabama and Louisiana, composed of members of local government, community- based organizations, and local business owners. Similar to their Technical Advisory Committee, the SACs will provide guidance to CRGC and inform the direction of its research activities but on a more localized level.
CRGC is currently working on six projects: Assessing the Health and Social Wellbeing Impacts of the Oil Spill; Assessing the Economic Impacts of the Oil Spill on Industry; Community Capacity Building; Generating Targeted Information for Disaster-Affected Communities; Mentoring the Next Generation; and Real-Time Program Self-Evaluation.
Assessing the Health and Social Wellbeing Impacts of the Oil Spill
The “Health Subteam” is led by Dr. Matthew R. Lee from Louisiana State University and Dr. Rajeev Ramchand from the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, along with graduate students Vanessa Parks and Chelsea Adams from Louisiana State University. This project’s primary initiative is to survey 2,500 residents along the coast in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida about topics such as current health status, perspectives of the spill on their communities, and use of health and other social services in communities. The team is currently administering its telephone-based survey and hopes to have them completed by the fall of 2016. The ultimate objective of the project is to close current knowledge gaps by assessing the medium- and long-term social, economic, and public health effects of the oil spill. Check back in the fall for the results from this study!
Assessing the Economic Impact of the Oil Spill
The “Economics Subteam” is led by Dr. Craig Bond and Dr. Shanthi Nataraj from the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, along with graduate student and research assistant Jacqueline Fiore from Tulane University. The goal of this project is to assess the economic impact of the oil spill on the fishing industry. The team is currently collecting and analyzing secondary data related to Gulf fisheries collected pre- and post-Deepwater Horizon. The “Economics Subteam” will soon begin developing strategies to use this data to understand the types, magnitudes, and distribution of impacts to help build resilience within local industry in the event of future disasters.
“The findings from the STRONG Survey will provide researchers and community leaders an opportunity to leverage existing capacities in Gulf Coast communities. CRGC’s interdisciplinary environment is engaging and collaborative. As a graduate student, I’ve been mentored by researchers from a wide range of disciplines.” Vanessa Parks, Graduate Student & Research Assistant, Louisiana State University – Member of Health Subteam
Community Capacity Building
The “Community Subteam” is co-led by Dr. Keith Nicholls from the University of South Alabama’s Coastal Resource & Resiliency Center (CRRC) and Ky Luu, J.D., from Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA). The goal of this project is to build capacity for community resilience using research and findings with on-the-ground support from trained field teams, including community health workers, community leadership fellows, graduate students, and local organizations.
One of the primary components of this project consists of the placement of community health workers in community health clinics and community-based organizations within CRGC’s three target communities (two per community). These community health workers, who live in the communities in which they work, are trained by CRRC and work though their host organizations to improve the overall health of community members, improve disaster preparedness, and implement resilience-building projects— an activity researchers from the RAND Corporation are providing training and mentoring for.
Another component of the project, led by DRLA, is the launch of a Disaster Resilience Leadership Fellowship Program in Louisiana and Alabama to address leadership challenges that face Gulf Coastal communities. Adapted from its global program curriculum, DRLA is currently recruiting emerging Gulf Coast leaders across the two states to equip them with the knowledge and tools needed to more effectively develop and implement plans that strengthen the resilience of their communities to future oil spills and other disasters.
Generating Targeted Information for Disaster-Affected Communities
The “Risk Communications Subteam” is co-led by Dr. Kristen Brent Venable from Tulane University’s Department of Computer Science and Dr. Melissa Finucane from the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute. The goal of this project is to build a website, tailored to the needs of communities in the Gulf region, to deliver targeted information about oil spills. The team has identified potential users of information, including people working in government and non-government organizations responsible for risk management, elected officials and their staff, business leaders, faith-based organizations, and other community leaders. In addition, the team has developed an interview protocol aimed at assessing the risk communication needs of community groups, policymakers, and risk managers, and researchers are currently meeting with key decision makers in the three CRGC target communities to learn more about their decision-making processes and what types of decision support information they need and use.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to be working with Dr. Bond and Dr. Nataraj of the RAND Corporation. For our research on the fisheries industry, we are applying a variety of econometric model specifications to assess the effect of the oil spill on landings in pounds and revenue for select fish species in the Gulf of Mexico. Our goal is to complement anecdotal accounts and time-trend analyses with findings from an assessment of routinely collected fisheries data submitted to the federal government.” Jacqueline Fiore, Graduate Student & Research Assistant, Tulane University – Member of Economics Subteam
Mentoring the Next Generation
The inclusion of graduate and undergraduate students in CRGC’s projects is very important to the Consortium. There is an ongoing effort within CRGC, led by Dr. Tim Slack from Louisiana State University and Ky Luu, J.D., from Tulane University, to host workshops and trainings to provide students with professional development and mentorship opportunities. In addition, CRGC students play active roles on Consortium subteams, attend in-person meetings with project leads, and participate in weekly CRGC-wide conference calls. Louisiana graduate student, Leah Drakeford is CRGC Data Manager and liaises with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC). For more information about the current students involved in the Consortium, visit CRGC’s website here.
Real-Time Program Self-Evaluation
In an effort to understand how effective CRGC is being at improving community resilience and to identify areas for improvement, the Consortium is continually evaluating its research activities using an algorithm created by the “Evaluation Subteam,” which is co-led by Dr. Melissa Finucane from the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute and Dr. Holly Scheib from Tulane University. CRGC team members complete surveys to evaluate individual involvement with community stakeholders, areas for improvement, and more. The evaluation efforts are supported by graduate students Amanda Edelmen from the Paredee RAND Graduate School, and Allison Kalnick and Bert Cramer from Tulane University.
Twice a year, CRGC holds an all-hands meeting to bring together the principal investigators, research staff, and students working on CRGC projects. Most recently, the team met in Mobile, Alabama for their third all-hands meeting, which CRGC’s Technical Advisory and Alabama Stakeholder Advisory Committees were also invited to attend. On the first day of the meeting, COMPASS provided a Message Box training to provide the team with tools and techniques for paring down messages and synthesizing results into effective products. On the second day of the meeting, CRGC team members and Technical Advisory Committee members took a “field trip” to Bayou La Batre, Alabama—one of CRGC’s target communities—where SAC members Annette Johnson, the Mayor of Bayou La Batre, and Daniel Le, the Branch Manager of Boat People SOS, took the group on a tour of two seafood processing plants and a local shipbuilding facility.
The work CRGC is doing is vitally important to holistically assessing and addressing the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the health and socioeconomic wellbeing of communities in the Gulf of Mexico and helping build resilience to future oil spill disasters.
To learn more about CRGC, and to follow along as their teams share their projects’ results, check out their website http://www.resilientgulf.org> and their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/resilientgulf/.