National Academies’ Gulf Research Program and Sea Grant release reports from collaborative workshop series on improving regional oil spill preparedness

November 01, 2019

By Tara Skelton

Ocean Springs, Miss. – The Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program and the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a series of workshops around the country – in Alabama, Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Virginia – designed to bring regional priorities to the fore in community oil spill preparation and resiliency planning. Five regional workshop reports and one summary report are now available online at https://gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach/collaborative-workshop-series/.

“These workshops brought together multiple sectors and disciplines. They provided us with valuable information to better understand and prepare for oil spills,” said Chris Rea, associate program officer for the Gulf Research Program. “It’s through these types of cross-cutting, collaborative partnerships that we can begin to build resilience to protect the health and well-being of affected communities.”

In 2017, GRP co-hosted a workshop in Washington D.C. entitled Preparing for a rapid response to major marine oil spills: Protecting and assessing the health and well-being of communities. Workshop participants identified potential needs and resources communities may have after an oil spill and discussed means to improve public health, preparedness, response, and resilience when one occurs. Attendees recommended GRP gather regional input to better understand how these issues might differ around the country.

Emily Maung-Douglass of Louisiana Sea Grant College Program (standing, right) listens and records comments as stakeholders in Houma, Louisiana discuss how the community could best prepare for an oil spill. (Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium)

To carry out the project Regional priority setting for health, social, and economic disruption from spills, GRP partnered with the Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program, with team members from the Florida Sea Grant College Program, Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and Texas Sea Grant College Program. These institutions enlisted the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Southern California Sea Grant Institutional Program, and Virginia Sea Grant College Program to carry out the workshops outside of the Gulf region.  

A national project planning team and five regional planning teams began working to make these workshops a reality in 2018. The focus of these meetings would be improving community oil spill preparedness with an emphasis on public health, social disruption, and economic impacts. In December of that year, the first meeting convened in Houma, Louisiana. Meetings followed throughout spring 2019 in Anchorage, Alaska; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Santa Barbara, California; and Mobile and Bayou La Batre, Alabama.

Workshops in the series included speakers and audience members from the oil spill response, public health, seafood industry, social science, and education sectors, as well as area elected officials and community leaders. The workshops produced specifically outlined deliverables for each region, including clearly identified research and outreach priorities, lists of suggested additions to emergency response protocols, potential pilot project ideas in the field of oil spill preparedness, and a comprehensive list of resources available and still needed in each locality. Each workshop report highlights local discussion outputs and a summary report synthesizes common themes that emerged throughout the series.

“The NOAA Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program is an exceptional partner in communicating vital oil spill preparedness and response information across a broad spectrum of the population,” said Michael Sams, U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District and Regional Response Team 6 Co-Chair, who participated in the Alabama and Louisiana workshops.

Overall, these collaborative workshops produced increased understanding of issues surrounding oil spill preparedness and resilience for attendees and a foundation for future work in that area, both regionally and nationally. To learn more about the workshops or read the reports, go to https://gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach/collaborative-workshop-series/.

Photo caption: Emily Maung-Douglass of Louisiana Sea Grant College Program (standing, right) listens and records comments as stakeholders in Houma, Louisiana discuss how the community could best prepare for an oil spill. (Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium).

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.