Spillover Effect — For the Gulf Coast, Can We Make the Smart, Long-Term Choices?

RAND Review News for Summer 2010

As RAND policy researcher David Groves peers out the window of his New Orleans–bound aircraft, he surveys the scene below. “You can see the deterioration of the wetlands. More open water, fewer trees and grasses.”

He has been working on coastal restoration and hurricane protection planning but sees the need for much more work to be done. “Without a comprehensive strategy for restoring critical areas and re-managing river flows and floods,” he said, “the region’s vulnerability to future hurricanes will grow. The oil spill makes the restoration challenge even more difficult. The question now is: Will Louisiana and the nation make the smart, long-term choices that can lead to sustainability?”

Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 28, 2005. Five years later, RAND has completed studies on the systemic problems exacerbated by the storms in the areas of housing, health, mental health, education, population, policing, climate change, coastal fisheries, and the economy.

Coastal Protection. Groves and others involved in RAND projects in the Gulf states are working with Louisiana’s Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration on a 2012 update of the state’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The research team is developing a quantitative tool to help establish priorities for restoration and protection projects. RAND researchers are also leading a collaborative effort with Tulane and Dillard Universities, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to help New Orleans develop better citywide strategies for reducing hurricane flood risk.

Crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washes ashore in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washes ashore in Orange Beach, Alabama, on June 12, 2010. Large amounts of the oil battered the Alabama coast, leaving deposits four to six inches thick on some beaches.

Health Care. In the wake of the recent Gulf Coast oil spill, the issue of mental health has come to the fore once again, given a rise in depressive symptoms and even suicide among fishermen and others who rely for their livelihoods on the Gulf’s abundant but damaged resources. “Developing additional evidence-based services to promote emotional well-being and resilience is critical to long-term community recovery,” said Ben Springgate, a RAND researcher and cofounder of REACH NOLA, a community-academic umbrella organization leading joint health programs, services, and research in New Orleans.

Workforce Development. In the past five years, RAND has learned that none of the issues in the Gulf can be tackled in isolation. Therefore, RAND has chosen to focus on an overarching, pervasive, and pressing economic challenge facing the Gulf states: the development of a workforce to support the region’s economic progress in the coming decades. As with environmental challenges, workforce requirements often do not respect municipal or even state lines, which is why RAND is focusing on regional economic needs and related issues, such as housing, education, and health care.

RAND has also found that strategies for solving the region’s problems must be crafted with a focus on both short-term needs and long-term solutions. Local and state organizations working alone do not have the resources to tackle the complex regional problems. Funding will likely need to come from an assortment of state and federal government agencies and other organizations. square