Winter 2018 – GoMRI Researcher Interview with Dr. Tim Slack

(From Winter 2018 Newsletter) Dr. Tim Slack from Louisiana State University answered a few questions about his RFP-V project, Understanding Resilience Attributes for Children, Youth, and Communities in the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and his work with the Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities (CRGC).

1. Thank you for talking with us! Tell us a bit about your RFP-V research project. What are the goals of your project?

We call our RFP-V project RCYC: the Resilient Children, Youth, and Communities project. It was established by a grant from GoMRI in 2016 and is a collaboration between researchers in Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Department of Sociology and Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. The project poses the following research questions: 1) What are the social and public health impacts associated with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (DHOS)? 2) What attributes of households are related to greater resilience to negative disaster impacts? 3) What role do online networks play in facilitating resilience? and 4) How do all of the above change over time? We are engaging a three-pronged research design to help us meet these objectives. First, we are creating a three wave longitudinal survey dataset with roughly 500 respondents collected in 2014, 2016, and 2018. A multi-stage sampling design using spill and claims data was originally used to select zip codes, census blocks, and households with children in spill affected areas of South Louisiana in 2014. We then followed up with this same cohort in 2016 and are preparing to do so again now in 2018. Second, in 2017, we drew a purposive subsample of survey respondents to conduct six focus groups in different communities in South Louisiana. Our aim was to capture in-depth qualitative data about participants’ experiences with the DHOS to triangulate with our quantitative survey data. We ultimately had 46 participants take part in our focus groups. Last, we are using a geospatial query tool to access and analyze social media data from Twitter. We are in the process of examining over 500,000 Twitter records from 2010- 2016 relating to the DHOS. Our survey instrument and focus groups also ask about social media use during the DHOS. All of this work is still very much in motion.

2. You are also a co-principal investigator with the Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities (CRGC). Could you tell us a bit more about your work with CRGC?

The Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities (CRGC) is a transdisciplinary, multi-institutional consortium led by Dr. Melissa Finucane at the RAND Corporation in partnership with researchers in the Department of Sociology at LSU; the ByWater Institute, the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, and the 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. It was established by a grant from GoMRI in 2015 to assess and address the social, economic, and public health impacts of the DHOS in the Gulf of Mexico region. CRGC’s research, outreach, and education goals are aimed at helping communities across the Gulf Coast to more effectively understand, withstand, and overcome the multiple stressors brought on by such disasters. My role with CRGC is twofold. One is that I lead the Education Subteam, which oversees our mentoring efforts with undergraduate and graduate students (we have close to 50 students involved in the project). I am also a member of the Health and Wellbeing Subteam, whose major role was fielding the Survey of Trauma, Resilience, and Opportunity in Neighborhoods in the Gulf (STRONG), a random digit dial landline and cell phone survey of households in the 56 coastal counties and parishes in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

3. What is your background and how did you get involved with this kind of work?

I am a sociologist by training. My research agenda coalesces around the areas of social stratification, social demography, community, and environment. I am also interested in understanding aspects of human geography and space, like the rural-urban continuum, as axes of inequality in society. I became interested in issues related to the Gulf’s “human coast” by virtue of being a sociologist at LSU, Louisiana’s public flagship and Land Grant University. The coastal region of Louisiana is absolutely vital to our state’s culture and economy, and it is under tremendous threat from both natural and man-made forces. Land Grant Universities exist to serve their state and so working on these issues is one way I can honor that mission.

4. Can you share a bit more about the types of questions or information that are collected in the surveys you indicate above, as a part of your RFP-V project and STRONG, and from the social media records?

Both the RCYC survey and STRONG ask questions related to DHOS exposure, physical and mental/ behavioral health, networks and social capital, perceptions of risk and resilience, and economic status. The RCYC sample is drawn from a smaller, more targeted geography in South Louisiana, while the STRONG sample is drawn from Gulf Coast counties and parishes spanning from Florida to Texas.

The kinds of information we are assessing from the social media data include how the content and meanings of tweets change over time, as well as how the actions of highly retweeted users change.

5. What are some of the most significant or exciting findings so far in your GoMRI- funded work, both through your work with CRGC and your RFP-V project?

In both cases our research is still very much ongoing and findings are preliminary, so I’m hesitant to stake firm claims at this point. But suffice it to say that despite the DHOS being out of the major national news cycle for seven years now, many people in the most affected region of the Gulf are still reckoning with it in terms of their lives and livelihoods.

6. We look forward to seeing the results of your projects! How do you anticipate the results of these studies will inform community resiliency and preparedness in the future?

I think there are a few broad ways to anticipate the results of these studies informing community resilience and preparedness in the future.

The first is that the RCYC survey data will give us longitudinal data among households in a targeted geography. Most data on human disaster impacts provides a snapshot of things at a single point in time. But because disasters are processes of social disruption, getting at changes within households over time will provide unique information. Also, focusing on a targeted geography is helpful because big population surveys have the potential to wash-out geographically localized impacts.

Second, one thing that is often lacking in resilience research is having baseline data. Most of the time data collection is funded after the disaster catalyst has occurred. The STRONG data now provide that regional baseline for future disasters. In fact, CRGC has recently secured funding from GoMRI and the National Science Foundation—the latter under the direction of Dr. Rajeev Ramchand at RAND—to follow-up with the original STRONG sample, which will allow a before and after picture following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2018.

These are just some of the ways we’ll be able to better inform the community resilience and preparedness discussion.

7. If funding were not an issue, what would you add to your GoMRI-funded projects?

This is easy to answer! First, I would want to have solid baseline data, in this case prior to the DHOS. Second, I would want larger and more representative samples to allow for better population generalizations and group comparisons. Third, I would want all of the data collection I’ve been involved with to be supported longitudinally over the long term. Really understanding the impacts of social system shocks like disasters requires the ability to treat them as a process subject to change over time; it is not something you can adequately capture with a few snapshots. Having really good baseline data and being able to follow large numbers of people over many years would put us in the best position to really understand these issues.

[Back to the Winter 2018 Newsletter]