By Risha Bera, Monitoring and Evaluation Associate
On Tuesday, January 29, I traveled with Bucket Brigade staff and Rapid Response Team volunteers to the LSU Center for Energy, Coast, and Environment to attend a day-long symposium “Response, Recovery, and Resilience to Oil Spills and Environmental Disasters: Engaging Experts and Communities.” Each LABB staff member came from a different social background and had a unique professional interest; thus we contributed as much in diversity as we learned at the conference
The symposium sought to increase understanding of how universities, regulatory agencies, non-profits, and individuals can increase the resilience of Louisiana communities to respond to natural and man-made disasters. The speakers discussed how resilience is characterized by self-organization and increased capacity to learn and adapt to changing environmental risks. Academic researchers from Oregon State University shared the examples of Passive Sample Devices, which are easy for community members to deploy in contaminated waters. The Louisiana Dept of Environmental Quality also shared its experiences taking water samples in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and communicating the results to communities. My favorite presentation was by Daniel Nguyen of Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation. Daniel shared the difficulties and successes of working with fishermen to relieve their anxiety about Louisiana’s seafood industry after the BP oil spill. The keynote speaker was Dr. Wilma Subra, a scientist who has been recognized for her great work in identifying sources of pollution and working to improve well-being in affected Louisiana communities.
After lunch, the audience was broken out into three discussion groups. The topic of my group was: during emergency events, which contaminants should be assessed what standards are needed to ensure that citizen collected data is useful? My group included representatives from Louisiana Dept of Environmental Quality, Dept of Natural Resources, Gulf Restoration Network, and LSU Dept of Chemistry. While discussing these questions, I realized that it is more intuitive for Bucket Brigade to discuss resilience for the community and by community, than for other organizations. I’m glad that Bucket Brigade’s role in disaster recovery is to enable citizens to learn and adapt to environmental risk, and that our one-on-one work with people has afforded valuable lessons in what techniques actually work in the field.