- Health impact assessments and embedding “health in all policies” are important approaches used by public health agencies to address issues at the intersection between human health and the environment (Shah).
- Public health agencies need better information about how factors such as transportation, education, and economics influence health, and how to best align these sectors to support health and resilience (Shah).
- Social and economic inequities drive the need for massive response (Nolen).
- In advance of disasters, responses could be better mapped to community needs. Tools for recovery planning are also needed to support the effective and equitable use of postdisaster funding by communities (Nolen).
- Hazard mitigation plans often do not address the health and social impacts of disasters. Social infrastructure (e.g., functioning businesses), informal support networks, and a diversified economy are important factors in resilience (Sempier).
- Slow moving and chronic threats, such as environmental degradation and globalization, may represent a greater challenge than acute threats to the resilience of many communities in the Gulf region (Caffey).
- Community involvement is essential for resilience and needs to be a dialogue. Researchers need to listen to communities to understand community needs and help to develop solutions that benefit communities. Networks and organizations that are already embedded in communities are important potential partners (Caffey).
- Gulf Coast communities have critical knowledge and capabilities that are often overlooked but represent an important resource for researchers and managers of restoration projects (Laska).
- Information developed by the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, based on experiences following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, provide important guidance to communities affected by the oil spills. The Council also provides a model for community-driven research, monitoring, and other activities (Banta).
As emphasized throughout the workshop, the Gulf region has significant strengths, including a wide variety of programs that are working to strengthen health and resilience of communities and to restore and protect the environments in which they live. Several presentations at the workshop highlighted some of these existing programs, networks, and approaches, and identified opportunities for the Gulf Research Program to learn from, and extend the benefits of, these programs to other coastal communities
“The better your community is before you get into a disaster or emergency, the better your community is going to be during the disaster or emergency, and the better your community is going to be coming out of the disaster or emergency,” said Umair A. Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES). HCPHES’s jurisdiction includes all 4.09 million residents of Harris County, Texas, including the City of Houston. In his presentation, Shah reviewed the central and often invisible role of public health departments in addressing issues at the intersection between health and the environment and suggested some opportunities to build upon this foundation to strengthen the resilience of communities.
HCPHES has five offices that cover health education and promotion; policy and planning; public health preparedness and response; public information; and operations and finance. It also has five divisions that cover disease control and clinical prevention; environmental public health; mosquito control; veterinary public health; and nutrition and chronic disease prevention, which is a new division. As Shah said, chronic disease “is what’s killing most of us, and we need to really think about ways in our system that we can bring in chronic disease prevention efforts.”
The activities undertaken by an agency such as HCPHES are “largely invisible,” said Shah. Yet the agency
has a large impact on health, because the department works in many different settings, and “place matters.” Shah said his agency believes that health is a function of where people live, learn, work, worship, and play. Physicians interact with patients only every few months or once per year. In contrast, once patients leave their physician’s office, they “are in the community all the time.”
He also noted the incredible value and cost-effectiveness of public health approaches to community problems. For example, every $1 invested in an effective school-based tobacco prevention program saves almost $20 in medical costs, and if 10 percent of U.S. adults began a regular walking program, heart disease costs could be reduced by $5.6 billion, he said. Yet only about 3 percent of health spending in the United States goes toward public health prevention-type activities.
Shah noted that HCPHES has a staff of about 600, down from 700 in 2011, a reduction due to funding constraints—the good news is that this number has been increasing more recently. Yet Harris County, Texas, is the third most populous county in the United States, with a demographically and politically diverse population of 4.3 million people spread over an area the size of Rhode Island. The population has grown 28 percent since 2000—10 percent in the city of Houston, and 68 percent in unincorporated areas of the county, making the population of unincorporated parts of Harris County greater than that of Phoenix or Philadelphia.1
Many factors play a role in creating healthy communities and healthy people. Shah particularly emphasized social connectedness, which is a key piece of resilience. Many social factors also contribute to community vulnerability, including poverty, factors related to education, transportation, and even the ability to take on chronic diseases. Yet everyone is vulnerable, if stressed enough, Shah emphasized. This is especially true when the public health system is itself stressed or under-resourced.
Shah concluded by pointing to several specific opportunities for the Gulf Research Program to help communities build resilience before a disaster happens:
- Articulating (and promoting the understanding of) the critical intersection between human health and environment;
- Leading efforts in incorporating concepts of “health in all policies” and health impact assessments into ongoing work; and
- Advocating for population health to be at the “table” in planning and promoting integrated approaches to health issues which includes
- Investing in research on the role of social determinants of health and promoting the health equity agenda;
- Furthering the development and use of sound data systems and mapping for targeted interventions and for all members of a community; and
- Engaging the whole of communities (through social media and other means) including decision-makers, funders and the lay public.
During a discussion of the kinds of projects the Gulf Research Program could fund, Shah pointed to the need to understand better the influence of such factors as transportation, education, and economics on health. “We don’t have good ways to study those intersection points and even to pull them together.” These sectors can contribute to improved health of communities, especially if public health is at the table in discussions and if we understand how best to align these sectors to support health.
However, he said, health data, informatics, and surveillance systems are not robust at present, and further many gaps exist in knowledge about the potential effects of disasters on communities. He also pointed out that reaching all community members requires keeping up with their ways of communicating with each other, such as through emerging social media. “You have to figure out how people are communicating in the community and how to intersect with them.”
Hurricane Ike made landfall on September 13, 2008, near Galveston, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. Ike produced a destructive storm surge that affected the upper Texas and southwest Louisiana coasts (NOAA, 2014). With a 14-foot storm surge, the hurricane swept over the barrier island of Galveston, severely damaging or destroying more than 70 percent of the buildings. A city of 50,000 with disproportionate poverty, Galveston was left with entire neighborhoods abandoned for years after the storm. The hurricane resulted in the devastation of the community’s most vulnerable populations and many of the social services that supported these populations. Following Ike, the community of Galveston, Texas, received funding from the National Institutes of Health to help “rebuild Galveston in a healthier way,” said Alexandra Nolen, director of the Center to Eliminate Health Disparities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. The underlying concept was to use disaster recovery planning as a way to restructure the city’s infrastructure and advance community health, using a “health in all policies” approach.
As part of this process, Nolen and her colleagues used Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to assess approximately 125 health, social, economic, and environmental indicators, many at the level of census blocks. Indicators were adapted for local scale and context from the Sustainable Communities Index, which was developed by Rajiv Bhatia, Lili Farhang, and colleagues as an easy to use equity-oriented assessment and planning tool for urban environments to advance healthy communities (see www.sustainablecommunitiesindex.org). They also worked with the Institute for
Alternative Futures to develop scenarios of how planning for recovery could have been improved before the storm. “We engaged about 60 city and county level officials, planners, social services directors and community leaders in a process of thinking creatively about the next time,” Nolen said. “How could we have planned better to get child care back up and running more quickly after the storm? How could we have planned better to provide bridge funding for some of our social services agencies? How could we have planned better to make sure that food security wasn’t as dramatic an issue as it turned out to be? And what difference would this have made to our recovery as a city, and to the ability of everyone to have a chance to return and reintegrate in the community?”
The mapping and scenario building exercises involved working with grassroots community groups to learn how best to conduct mapping and interpret the maps. The resulting conversations in turn led to community-driven priority setting around broader issues, including early child development and housing quality, among others, with many of these priorities later being integrated into master plans, recovery plans, and community planning.
Following an assessment of public health impacts, a second project focused on using a Health Impact Assessment2 to discern how to best recover public housing, which turned out to be a very contentious issue, Nolen said. “We had to think carefully about how to frame issues to make sure that we were including a lot of different kinds of constituents. We knew we would need community backing of influential, thoughtful people, so we brought together a Steering Committee of people from the community that included bankers, the police department, city council members, housing and civil rights advocates, social services workers, and a whole spectrum of other people, many of whom did not share a vision for public housing recovery.” Despite these disagreements, together the group developed consensus by focusing on neighborhood improvement indicators that impact health to guide the methodology and recommendations. By doing this, groups that had been actively opposed to public housing recovery on the island began to support the use of the tool for broad planning over the long term, and even acknowledged its usefulness for guiding planning for public housing.
A third component of the work involved an environmental justice initiative in the petrochemical-based city of Port Arthur, in partnership with the Community In-Power and Development Association. The project “reawakened the community’s interest in the concept of resilience and led to a broader conversation about disaster planning.” The work started with analyzing air quality data—the key concern expressed by community members—then added a community-based participatory research approach to map social determinants of health and potential postdisaster health threats related to proximity to industry, along with asset mapping (including “lost assets” that no longer existed). By the end of the 18-month initiative, community members had refocused the aims of their advocacy language and goals to include broader social determinants of health such as development of grocery stores and reducing incarceration, and were incorporating disaster planning concepts into their environmental justice conversations.
Nolen drew three lessons from her experiences following Hurricane Ike. One is that existing social and economic exclusion inequities drive the need for massive responses. “We have ongoing low level disasters in our communities,” said Nolen. “We have to use equity-oriented health impact assessments and health in all policies approaches, which are gaining momentum in many communities across the United States, to respond to these ‘small disasters’ so that when larger disasters hit, they are not as devastating to vulnerable populations; reciprocally, we need to more actively incorporate disaster components into health considerations in planning.” Furthermore, this disaster planning needs to be specific, tackling issues that are critical to supporting healthy communities, such as how to resume daycare services quickly following a disaster, or other services that will support re-inhabitation of neighborhoods by a critical mass of people, that in turn, can drive the local economy into recovery. “This is not just a technical fix; it is also a social justice issue.”
The second lesson is that more planning tools are needed to support communities to effectively and equitably use the funding available postdisaster, “the money-spill,” she said, including mapping the entry points for opportunities and additional support structures needed. For instance, communities should know ahead of time how and on what timeline FEMA sets up recovery committees or rolls out Social Services Block Grants (including the typical time from disaster to actual disbursement of funds), and what the conditions are for receiving funding; this would help social service providers know whether they would be eligible and how long they will have to operate without funding after a disaster or support a community to set up a process to immediately respond to needs. An important issue, said Nolen, is whether the responses to a disaster map well with community needs. In many particular areas they do, but they may not do so comprehensively. For example, after Hurricane Ike the local banks in Galveston came together and quickly extended low-interest loans to tide over social services organizations until federal disaster recovery grants could come through. However,
2 According to the World Health Organization: “Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a means of assessing the health impacts of policies, plans and projects in diverse economic sectors using quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques. HIA helps decision-makers make choices about alternatives and improvements to prevent disease/injury and to actively promote health” (http://www.who.int/hia/en accessed November 17, 2014).
many local social services and agencies still closed unnecessarily. If the appropriate steps were taken during a planning stage, said Nolen, distributive principles and priorities could be discussed in advance of a disaster and important services could have been maintained.
The final lesson is that community coalitions at the meso-level are important for speeding recovery. They should be brought together prior to disasters to discuss how they could support each other after disasters, including by adopting cooperative and not competitive principles and processes, shared priority setting, integrated budgets and personnel (whenever possible), and bringing in decision makers from a variety of sectors who can contribute. Of course, such commitment requires prior relationship building and explicit agreements and processes that can be set into motion quickly when needed.
As coastal storms outreach coordinator for the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Tracie Sempier helped to develop the Coastal Community Resilience Index,3 which is a tool communities can use to examine how prepared they are for storms and storm recovery. The index can be used by community leaders to guide discussion about resilience to coastal hazards. The index outlines six domains of resilience—critical facilities, mitigation measures, business plans, transportation issues, community plans and agreement, and social systems.
In her remarks, she presented several ideas on how resilience-strengthening activities can also contribute to improving health and well-being. These ideas emerged from roundtables held in 47 communities across the Gulf to identify elements missing from a Coastal Community Resilience Index. These meetings explored critical issues related to the human impacts of disaster, including issues of how communities might be impacted by disasters, how to communicate the health and social risks of those disasters to the broader public, and how community organizations can help the public adopt mitigation or adaptation strategies, particularly given that the large effects of some changes in climate may show themselves only gradually.
A key opportunity to better align health and resilience is to bridge discussions of public health officials with those of city planners, floodplain managers, mayors, public works officials, businesses, and the non-profit sector, Sempier said. Those discussions “have not happened,” she said, yet they can alert public and private officials to often neglected human factors, such as the need for hospitals, the availability of vaccinations and medications, psychological well-being, the prevention of standing water, and having an adequate and informed physical, mental, and behavioral health workforce.
As an example, she mentioned incentives to mitigate the impacts of flooding due to climate change. A floodplain manager may be very interested in storm water management from a drainage perspective, whereas a public health official may be interested in how standing water may affect the mosquito population. But those concerns cannot be connected if the people involved are not connected. “Connecting the dots from all these different audiences is extremely important,” she said.
The roundtable conversations also underlined the importance of social infrastructure (including functioning businesses), informal support networks, and a diversified economy to health and resilience. Communities may have hazard mitigation plans, but these plans generally do not address the health and social impacts of acute or slow moving disasters. Community infrastructure asset mapping is important, said Sempier, as are exercising and practicing resilience, “which is not something that we’re used to doing.” Framing messages through a lens of social responsibility and sustainability can let everyone know that they have the responsibility to help mitigate disasters and promote self-sufficiency.
Communities can do a lot with surprisingly few resources, Sempier observed, when discussing opportunities for the Gulf Research Program. Small grants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 to help communities take actions to address some of the less expensive vulnerabilities identified through the Coastal Community Resilience Index can achieve a lot, she said. The Gulf Research Program should also mobilize existing community assets such as emergency management, faith-based, ethnic, and business organizations to build capacity, she said. Finally, messages that are simple, reiterated, and tied to relevant community issues can spur action. “When I go into communities and talk about things like rising sea levels, for instance, [communities] really don’t want me to tell them about every paper that was ever written on that topic; they just want to know the five most important things they need to do.”
Fishing communities—whether recreational or commercial—in the Gulf region have been impacted by a series of disasters over the past decade, said Rex Caffey, professor of natural resource economics at Louisiana State University. The region was hit by a series of devastating hurricanes, including Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike, followed by the 2010 DWH oil spill. In his remarks, Caffey highlighted the work of the Gulf region’s Sea Grant program to help these communities recover quickly.
The National Sea Grant College Program is a nationwide network of colleges and universities that work on the conservation and use of U.S. coastal regions, whether along the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, or
Great Lakes. The Sea Grant system parallels the land grant model of research, teaching, and extension in states with a coastline, but with an emphasis on commercial and recreational fishing communities rather than agriculture.4 Louisiana Sea Grant has about 20 marine extension specialists and agents. About half of them are subject matter specialists in areas such as seafood technology, marine law, economics, and biology management. The other half is made up of agents who live and work in coastal communities. “They go to church with our stakeholders; they recreate with them; they become part of the community. Many of them have been in these communities for 30 or 40 years. There is an element of trust that we have through that network.”
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Louisiana Sea Grant program helped form the Louisiana Fishing Recovery Coalition, which then served as a model for activities subsequent to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The goal of the coalition was to arrange for the different subsectors of the commercial and recreational fishing communities to begin communicating with each other. On a weekly basis, Sea Grant agents worked with coalition members, helping with damage assessments, making the case for damage recovery and fishery disaster assistance, and helping to allocate those dollars in equitable ways.
Acute events such as hurricanes and oil spills challenge the resilience of these communities, Caffey said, but chronic threats represent an even greater challenge, because they are “so insidious and long term.” For example, Louisiana has lost approximately 1,900 square miles of land to the Gulf over the last century, which represents “an environmental threshold that is looming for a number of our resource-dependent communities.” Another, less widely recognized threat is globalization, he said, which threatens the livelihoods of community members. To illustrate the vulnerability of many within natural resource-dependent communities, Caffey noted his work to track the extent of insurance coverage among businesses and individuals, which is a measure of who might be better able to mitigate risk and be more resilient to disasters. Among the charter boat industries in the shrimp sector, only 5 percent had any sort of insurance, whereas the recreation-for-hire sector has about 95 percent coverage.
Caffey identified two types of research that need to be continued and developed. Descriptive work needs to be done to identify baseline conditions and metrics for characteristics of communities that may make them more resilient or vulnerable to the economic, social, and environmental impacts of disasters. “The time to do this work is before a disaster,” he said. The real challenge, however, is the other type of work, which is prescriptive—identifying what can be done to solve a problem. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned from extension work in 20 years is that if you go into a community, you need to have something to offer.”
The people in Louisiana have meeting fatigue from being involved in many discussions about coastal restoration and responses to hurricanes, oil spills, and other disasters. But community involvement is essential, and when working with communities, he said, “more than speaking, people need to listen. Find out what [the community] needs and be responsible for those, versus a one-way communication.” This is a huge challenge, but networks and organizations that are already embedded in communities throughout the Gulf, such as Sea Grant programs, will be important partners in this work.
Gulf Coast communities have amazing capabilities upon which researchers and restoration project managers could draw, said Shirley Laska, professor emerita of sociology at the University of New Orleans. “Shrimp harvesters have an incredible ability to purchase and maintain their boats, to know how to use the GPS, to know where the fish are, to ride out a storm and survive it, and to protect their boat when there is a hurricane,” she said. She continued,
Offshore oil workers have abilities that are so well known for over a century that the state of Louisiana leads the world in terms of providing experts on oil extraction wherever you find it in the world.… The wives of these men have to run their households pretty much all by themselves because their spouses are away so much, and they know how to manage the finances, how to manage the children, and how to be part of extended networks in their families and friendship groups that give them great strengths. And isn’t it amazing that Native American communities know how to respond in a storm, because their community is right on the water. They will put their shrimp boats together, take them out … and tie the boats together, and they’ll put all their valuable items on those boats because they know how to be seamen, and how to keep those boats together while the storm comes.
Other groups that value a different type of educational experience and expertise tend to overlook these capabilities, Laska continued. Members of these groups, therefore, sometimes see these communities as needing help, even when these communities are capable of helping themselves.
An excellent example of a project that demonstrates this observation is the Sci-TEK Project in coastal Louisiana. Sci-TEK integrates traditional ecological
4 Sea Grant concentrates effort in four interrelated focus areas to support the health and vitality of the nation’s communities and coastal resources: Healthy Coastal Ecosystems; Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture; Resilient Communities and Economies; Environmental Literacy and Workforce Development. See http://seagrant.noaa.gov.
knowledge (TEK), often gained from years of on-the-ground experience, into restoration decision making. It builds relationships between scientists and local experts through reciprocal knowledge transfer. In one case, instead of scientists telling harvesters about restoration projects, scientists asked the harvesters for input into the project. “The harvesters were stunned,” said Laska. “‘You mean you’re not going to tell us where to go, like most scientists do?’ We said ‘No, it’s yours.’ So when the day came for each one of them to be partnered with agency personnel and scientists, they came as if they were teachers with a game plan.” Using their knowledge of how the study should be framed, the harvesters expanded the study area. “It was an amazing engagement between harvesters and agency representatives and scientists that led to conversations they have never had in a public meeting.” This interaction built relationships relevant to future interactions.
The Sci-TEK researchers recorded their conversations with the harvesters, transcribed the recordings, and used that information to produce quantitative data about restoration activities. One result, according to Laska, was maps of where restoration projects should occur (Bethel et al., 2014). “For example, [the harvesters] said never put a restoration project in open water, because there’s nothing for it to attach to.”
“A similar respect for the incredible diversity of expertise that one finds in any community” can be found in the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council, Laska said. For example, Stan Stevens, a founding member of the council, pushed for many years for a study of vapor control technology, because he was aware of concern in the local community about the issue. This is another example of linking “science and citizens,” said Laska.
During the discussion period, Laska expressed the concern that the Gulf Research Program would overlook the field of human dimensions. “What mechanisms have you put in place to protect those disciplines?” she asked. Goldstein responded that the Program is planning to fund good ideas; if there are good ideas put forth those ideas will be funded. Moreover, the Institute of Medicine is part of the Gulf Research Program, which guarantees that human dimensions research will be considered. Linda McCauley, Emory University, added that the Gulf Research Program has stated its intention to fund cross-disciplinary ideas, which would include the social sciences.
Joe Banta, senior project manager for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, offered an overview of how the Council has contributed to the recovery of communities affected by oil spills. The Council was formed immediately after the Exxon Valdez spill by federal mandate through the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 as a permanent, industry-funded citizens’ organization for overseeing both the oil shipping industry and its government regulators. One useful action taken by the council to support people in the Gulf following the 2010 DWH oil spill was creating a website, www.pwsrscac.info, for sharing documents and resources to help answer the many questions and information requests that poured in during the crisis.
The council gets its funding from the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company but with “no strings attached,” Banta said; no company personnel sit on its board, although the council works with industry on its plans, permits, and operations and research. “We’re an innovative concept, and what we get out of it is that equal standing with industry.” The council’s board includes a diverse array of community voices, including Native Alaskans from tiny villages, chamber of commerce representatives, and fishermen.
The organization conducts a broad variety of research, from toxicity of hydrocarbons and oil dispersants to operational issues such as hull corrosion and seismic engineering. One of its programs conducts long-term monitoring of environmental impacts. Other work includes community-based citizen science initiatives that monitor harmful invasive species such as European green crab and tunicates (sea squirts), which can hitch a ride into the region on the hulls or in the ballast water of oil tankers (PWSRCAC, 2014).
The Exxon Valdez oil spill was a huge driver of positive change in the oil industry, forcing very strong regulations that required it to develop oil spill contingency plans and response plans, Banta said. “The participation that we have with industry dealing with those plans on a day-in, day-out basis is incredible. Work groups, work processes, and meetings with them and with the regulators are pretty much a constant process for us.”
The contingency plans include an ongoing near-shore fishing vessel response program that is relevant to the workshop’s focus on community resilience and sustainability, Banta said. That program reflects a process that involves local people and provides them with a means to protect themselves and their livelihoods. When the Exxon Valdez accident happened, no formal plans were in place to include fishing vessels in any oil spill cleanup; the industry only had a temporary “vessel of opportunity” strategy to call in all available boats and put them through cleanup training. But under the contingency plans required by the state after the Exxon Valdez spill, the industry in Prince William Sound is required to annually train and drill hundreds of fishing vessels, and approximately 350 vessels participate. In the Prince William Sound region, “a big part of having a resilient community is having these people take care of themselves,” and that is what the 350 vessels are doing, Banta said. Unfortunately, such an ongoing fishing vessel program with contracts and training was never developed after the DWH oil spill, he said.
In terms of community impacts planning, the council developed a manual, Coping with Technological Disasters: A User Friendly Guidebook, which is a resource for what to expect and how to prepare for disasters that can affect a community or small business (PWSRCAC, 2004). The guidebook was a source of guidance during the Gulf oil spill. Several community and academic program leaders, for example, adopted its peer listener training program.
Leanne Truehart, from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, commented during the discussion that she liked the idea of the peer listener training program, because “nowhere in there does it say psychiatrist, therapist, [or] mental health.” The stigma of mental illness prevents many people from seeking help, and addressing that barrier should be part of the ongoing discussion, she said. A peer listener program could quickly be put into place during a disaster as a preventative intervention, as opposed to doing nothing and watching the suicide rate go up 18–24 months later, Truehart said, which is what happened in her community and has occurred in other parts of the world following disasters.
Another workshop participant asked how the concept of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council might translate to the Gulf region, which spans five states that are frequently in competition. Banta replied that members of the council’s diverse board do “mix it up,” but once the organization was formed, they worked well together for the common mission. Creating such a group does, however, take political will—and a source of funding, he said.
A major strength of the citizens’ council is that it is funded and has a paid staff, but it also has a diverse community-based board that directs the staff, he noted. In this way, the community can drive research that it would like to see done and is not getting done otherwise. For instance, when the shrimp fishery reopened in Port Valdez after the oil spill, where oil tankers discharge ballast water at the marine terminal, people wanted to know if the shrimp had any hydrocarbons in them, “so we did that study,” Banta said. The study concluded that hydrocarbon tainting of shrimp muscle is not a concern for the shrimp fishery in Port Valdez and observed concentrations do not pose a human health risk. However, PAH accumulation in some shrimp eggs may potentially impair development.
Summarized below are responses generated by two breakout discussion groups charged with developing suggestions for (1) education and training activities to improve community preparedness, recovery, and resilience and (2) how to effectively engage and benefit communities.
Breakout question: What types of collaborative, educational, or training activities could significantly enhance current efforts to improve how Gulf communities anticipate, prepare for, and recover from disasters and environmental change?
As a summary of the breakout discussion, Steven Picou, University of South Alabama, presented the list, below, to all workshop participants. This list summarizes items suggested by individual and multiple participants during the breakout discussion and should not be seen as the consensus recommendations of the workshop participants; nor are they necessarily actions that the Gulf Research Program should undertake:
- Improve understanding of the science of science communication. How can research results be delivered at the community level, so that communities are informed and can make decisions to manage risks? What is the effectiveness of various communication methods to reach different communities (e.g., at-risk communities have a variety of language, financial, cultural issues that complicate communications)?
- Support educational programs about the developing science of recovery and resiliency.
- Support programs that bring community organizations, public health and environmental monitoring communities together to improve communications about the links between the “health” of coastal ecosystems and human health. These communities could be better integrated through education/training or collaboration opportunities that support learning together, and the growth of trusted relationships and networks.
- Support the development of a new learning community (beyond the familiar fellowship and K–12 models). Think about educating new and different target audiences in the community, such as public health providers and practitioners, community groups, science first responders (those that can be deployed quickly to do work within communities). Include research to better understand effective network formation.
Support longitudinal work to track outcomes and behavior changes in response to education and training. For example:
- Tracking outcomes of students selected for Gulf Research Program fellowships.
- Longitudinal study that begins by working with STEM faculty in academia to refine curricula for the education majors they teach and assesses pre-service teacher training and effects on students.
- Link education and training programs with research funding. (e.g., NIEHS GEO-Health program at the Fogarty International Center).
- Plan for sustainability of these programs. Must have buy-in from communities, and educational institutions, as well as long-term funding to keep effective programs going.
Breakout question: How can the Gulf Research Program ensure that its activities effectively engage and benefit communities? And, how can the Gulf Research Program extend the benefits of resilience building activities to other coastal communities affected by oil and gas production?
As a summary of the breakout discussion, Linda McCauley, Emory University, presented the list, below, to all workshop participants. This list summarizes items suggested by individual and multiple participants during the breakout discussion and should not be seen as the consensus recommendations of the workshop participants; nor are they necessarily actions that the Gulf Research Program should undertake:
Trust is critical to successful community engagement and is built through long-term interactions. The Gulf Research Program could explore new models for funding that brings together traditional academic universities, communities, and community-based organizations in new ways to support community-focused and innovative research. For example:
- Requests for applications (RFA) could specify community engagement as a requirement.
- Proposals could include the demonstration of existing working relationships or allow time for building new relationships. In the latter case, the proposals and funding could be stepwise: (1) identify and establish relationships; (2) work together to design protocols; (3) collect data; (4) communicate research results to community; and (5) additional funding could help communities use research findings to implement change.
- RFAs could be designed to attract community-based organizations that would then select an academic partner. Training programs could be developed by community organizations to help educate researchers about a community’s culture, values, and interests.
- Funding could support a coalition, rather than an academic institution, perhaps around baseline data collection and monitoring. For example, RFAs could ask applicants to develop strategies for involving scientists and citizens to work together to develop baseline data. Programs could also train citizens, agency personnel, and others in standardized methods for collecting baseline data, so that when a disaster occurs, citizens and agencies are ready to work together to understand impacts.
- Activities could support community ownership and longevity of data: RFAs could promote longevity of data by providing funding for data visualization and iterative meetings with community members so that the presentation and interpretation of data become intuitive to the community. Researchers should also return collected data back to the community.
- RFAs could include mechanisms to promote accountability of researchers and community members, the equitable and functional distribution of resources, and to incentivize community involvement. Universities often interpret requirements differently and projects often do not truly involve communities. Community members and organizations should be compensated appropriately for their time.
- Funding to support leadership development activities for community partners so communities can be a driving force for identifying research questions, obtaining grants, reaching out to the community, and disseminating information.
Consideration of proposals with lessons learned that are transferable to other coastal or even inland communities. For example: How to quantify personal exposure to chemical mixtures. In general, research looks at community-level exposures to single contaminants. Potential research to benefit communities;
- Look at the individual level as well as the community level
- Understand impacts of contaminants on humans (too often limited to just understanding the contaminant, not its effects in humans)
- Extend beyond looking at “one chemical at a time” to multiple exposures
- Include understanding of personal risk/susceptibility. Look at the susceptibility of individuals, and extrapolate from there the way that the community should respond. A community response might not be defensible if only a minute portion of the population is truly at risk.