In the wake of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, the potential health impacts of the DWH explosion and oil spill have been widely discussed. Yet, as noted by Lynn Goldman of George Washington University, many existing and emerging factors will influence community resilience and health in the Gulf region over the next 30 years. From chronic factors—such as health disparities, environmental pollution, and the ever present threat of natural disasters—to the impacts of emerging threats, such as rising sea levels and ecosystem change, the Gulf region presents a complex and dynamic set of challenges to the health and resilience of its coastal communities. The workshop brought together individuals from academic institutions, federal, state, and local agencies, and community-based organizations to discuss opportunities to prepare for and respond to this complex set of challenges.
Supporting the development of healthy and resilient Gulf communities by improving understanding of the links between coastal communities and the ecosystems in which they live, is one of the three goals of the Gulf Research Program, she said (see Box 1-1). The funds the Program received, “seem like a large amount of money” she continued, but it is important to remember that the Gulf Research Program has a very broad mandate, well beyond the topics discussed at this meeting, and that the funds will be expended over 30 years. “The Program must use its resources as a catalyst,” she said, to spark important work across its three categories of activity: Research and Development; Education and Training, and Environmental Monitoring. The Gulf Research Program’s key challenges in the coming year are to identify focus areas for investment and opportunities to leverage its limited funds for maximum impact, she said.
Many questions need to be answered in formulating the Gulf Research Program’s plans, she said: What can the Program cause to happen that would not have happened otherwise? What activities will inspire innovative, integrated thinking about how to address the challenges faced by people along the Gulf Coast? How can the Program take advantage of the role of the National Academies as an independent adviser to the nation in areas of science, engineering, and health?
Over the course of the 2-day workshop, individual participants offered their ideas for needs, challenges and opportunities that should be considered as the Gulf Research Program expands its portfolio of activities. These ideas were reviewed by a breakout discussion group tasked with identifying the ideas discussed at the meeting which held the greatest potential to produce lasting benefits for the Gulf region. 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 as potential areas for future exploration. It should not be seen as the consensus recommendations of the workshop participants; nor are they necessarily actions that the Gulf Research Program should undertake.
Foster creation of a “central hub” in the Gulf to support transdisciplinary research, education, and training and to link research to practice.
- A center is a means to focus needed attention on health, social, and environmental issues relevant to coastal populations. It could also drive the use of common measures and information sharing across disciplines and sectors.
- Could serve as a coordinating hub that links existing networks and organizations within the Gulf region that are engaged in relevant work (e.g., research on health and ecosystem impacts, disaster response, monitoring, restoration).
- Could engage the public sector, private sector, communities, and academics, perhaps through a regional citizens’ advisory council-type of governing body.
- Could be designed with transparency, sustainability, trust, and community embeddedness as core values.
- Need innovative thinking about the structure and funding. Rather than being housed at a single university, it could be a consortium of institutions, supporting multiple working groups around different priorities. Funding mechanism could require invest-
ment from others (e.g., communities, philanthropy, businesses, states).
- Focus on transdisciplinary leadership development.
- Support sustainable career paths by linking cross-boundary education and training programs with research opportunities and funding.
- Develop education and training programs for students at different levels, not just at the graduate level.
- Advance the science of resilience and identify effective practices for building and sustaining the resilience of communities.
- Support cross-sector work to develop a common framework for resilience.
- Develop a common platform for sharing data, methods, instruments, and analytical approaches (and funding to encourage the use of these resources) to support the development of comparable data and the use of best practices.
- Explore opportunities to support longitudinal studies.
- Identify metrics that are useful and meaningful to communities and researchers.
- Take advantage of cohort studies (e.g., clean-up workers, babies) that have been developed in the Gulf region, where the funding will likely disappear in the near future.
- Support the development of “science first responders”.
- Identify challenges (e.g., obtaining IRB approvals) and opportunities to contribute to the efforts of NIEHS and other organizations to develop teams of researchers and others that can be deployed to collect data during disasters and to assess health impacts of disasters.
- Identify needs, challenges, and opportunities to better engage communities as part of a disaster research response.
- Focus on mental health impacts of disasters.
- Identify data and research needs for understanding the effects of disasters on mental health and developing approaches to reduce stigma and mitigate impacts.
- Explore opportunities to integrate prevention or mitigation strategies into response and recovery.
- Explore opportunities to improve how communities are involved and engaged in scientific research.
- Assess the impact of different models for engaging communities.
- Collaborate with funders that effectively use these approaches.
- Educate peer-reviewers about the methodology of community based participatory research and the importance of this approach to achieving Gulf Research Program goals.
- Advance human health and environmental monitoring technologies.
- Invest in the development of new instruments and tools that are easy to deploy and use in the field.
- Develop consensus on biomonitoring approaches.
- Explore opportunities to leverage the Gulf Research Program funds and extend the longevity of its activities.
- Identify funding approaches and partnerships that leverage the Gulf Research Program’s funds and lead to the development of activities that will be sustained beyond the Program’s duration.