$7.7 million will pay for flood, climate resilience studies in Louisiana

Three studies aimed at investigating resiliency to flooding and potential responses to climate change in Louisiana communities will receive $7.7 million from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Gulf Research Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, officials from the two programs announced Tuesday. A fourth grant of $3.1 million will fund research into similar resilience issues in coastal Alabama.

The 30-year NAS Gulf Research Program is funded by $350 million from BP and $150 million from Transocean resulting from criminal pleas stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

By pairing with the Johnson foundation, which put up $5 million for the grants, the research program is extending the reach of the BP-related money.

Researchers from Louisiana State University, the University of New Orleans and Louisiana Sea Grant will receive $2.9 million to study new approaches to how people will respond to regional effects from climate change, especially sea level rise.

“The overarching idea is that we are seeing and will continue to see migration inland from the coast,” said Jeff Carney, director of the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio, in a email response to questions about the grant. “This movement leads to growth in places like Baton Rouge.”

Just because people may be moving out of harm’s way from the effects of sea level rise as they travel inland, it doesn’t mean they won’t face risks from other effects of climate change. Researchers, for example, say the the August 2016 flooding in the Baton Rouge area was in part caused by warming of the Gulf of Mexico linked to climate change.

“As we learned last summer, we have to consider not just migration away from coastal hazards but flood risks from river flooding in the inland receiver communities as well,” Carney said.

The grant will be targeted at measuring those effects on multiple scales “because it looks at a regional phenomenon of migration (social patterns of migration, regional planning, large scale hydrological modeling); to the community scale (indicators of community well-being, community based engagement and planning, landscape scale design) to the site and individual scale (individual indicators of health and well-being, architectural design and construction),” Carney said.

His team will include faculty from 10 departments at LSU, Sea Grant and UNO, who will partner with the American Planning Association, American Institute of Architects, and the American Society of Landscape Architects to turn the research into practical solutions.

A team led by Dr. Benjamin Springgate, associate professor of clinical medicine and health policy and systems management at LSU Health New Orleans Schools of Medicine and Public Health, will receive $2.5 million to develop a “community resilience learning collaborative and research network. The effort aims at improving resilience and mental health outcomes in six southern Louisiana communities that are vulnerable to poor health and the impacts of disasters.

In an email, Springgate said the team is still reviewing which six communities will be targeted in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and coastal southeastern Louisiana.

“The research will focus on under-resourced communities with disparities in exposure to disasters and social determinants of health like poverty,” Dr. Springgate said in a news release from the health sciences center.

Goals of the project include:
•A rapid assessment of how well the communities currently address resilience;
•Determining how to best promote improved mental health resilience by comparing two approaches – providing agencies with technical resources to assist clients, or supporting community planning by agencies and individuals to adapt and improve technical resources for local context and use;
•Comparing two mobile phone based applications to enhance skills to cope with stress and offer resources to enhance resilience.

“Building upon existing partnerships, our team will engage stakeholders in the research and mixed-methods for evaluating effects of interventions on community and individual resilience outcomes for adults receiving services in health and community-based programs in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and coastal south Louisiana,” said Dr. Springgate, who also is chief of the new Section of Community and Population Medicine in the medical school.

The team also includes the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program; Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development; Community and Patient Partnered Research Network; Greater New Orleans Inc.; Healthy African Families II; Louisiana Community Health Outreach Network; Louisiana Department of Health; Resilient Baton Rouge; St. Anna’s Episcopal Church; Tulane University; the University of California – Los Angeles; and University of Southern California.

Carlos Martin, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, will direct a $2.3 million study of housing resilience in the greater New Orleans area. The project will examine housing policy and practices that affect household vulnerability to disasters, as well as the quality and accessibility of resources that can reduce those vulnerabilities.

“The project will develop strategies for equitable housing programs, policies, and practices that can strengthen the resilience of whole communities,” the news release said. “The focus will be on populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the greater New Orleans area, but the information and tools developed are intended to help build household resilience throughout the Gulf region.”

Other members of this research team include the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center; Texas A&M University; and University of California – Berkeley.

The Alabama grant also is aimed at community and family resilience issues, but focuses specifically on socio-cultural issues involving Cambodian and Laotian refugee communities and their response to environmental challenges.

Led by Denise Lewis, associate professor of human development and family science at the University of Georgia, the project “will engage with Cambodian and Laotian families in coastal Alabama to determine how individual, family, and community-level strengths and vulnerabilities contribute to community health and well-being and how individuals utilize social networks and formal services to respond to stressors,” said the news release announcing the grant. “Culturally responsive interventions and strategies for increasing community capacity and resilience will be developed.”

Other project team members include the Cambodian Association of Mobile and the Lao Association of Mobile.

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