About a half an hour’s drive separates the fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, from downtown Mobile. Sea Grant specialist Missy Partyka will make that commute one evening in early May to loop as many people as possible into Preparing for oil spills in the Eastern Gulf: Health, economic resilience, and community well-being, the final installment of a national workshop series on public health, social disruption, and economic impacts of oil spills. The events in the series have each been unique due to differing regional priorities, and they have also been shaped by input from earlier workshops. To that end, Partyka wanted to find a way to reach local Alabama residents typically on the front line of oil spill impacts, and that meant diverging from the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. format.
“We’re making an effort to target those community members who are unlikely to be able to attend a multi-day workshop during normal business hours,” said Partyka. She explained that while the event May 6 and 7 at Mobile’s Riverview Plaza hotel will likely draw human health, natural resource management, and oil spill response professionals from across the northern Gulf states, she wanted to give locals who work in the commercial seafood industry in particular an opportunity to weigh in. So after the second Mobile day session wraps up on May 7, she will host an evening meeting from 5:15 to 7:15 at the Bayou La Batre Community Center. Dinner will be provided to attendees who pre-register online by May 2, and children are welcome.
The earlier workshops in the national series, hosted jointly by Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI); and various Sea Grant partners took place in Louisiana, Alaska, Virginia, and California. The goal was to provide a forum for residents of multiple American coasts to weigh in on overall oil spill preparedness and to identify local research, outreach, and resource needs. Because the Gulf of Mexico is the largest hub of oil and gas exploration in the United States, organizers opened and closed the series in Gulf states. Because it is also a regular recipient of intense coastal storms, residents have at times had to deal with back-to-back natural and human-made disasters.
For that reason, Partyka is bringing in Coast Guard responders to Mobile to talk not only about how they respond to these events, but how they communicate to the public about the response while events are ongoing. “We want to give officials a chance to explain how they choose what to share during an active response, because a lot of that info is unclear to the public,” said Partyka. “It can feel as if people are not being told everything.” Partyka said the Mobile event will also contain a ‘life on the Coast’ session, with residents speaking to their experiences of living through multiple disasters. The Bayou La Batre meeting will also give locals the opportunity to discuss how disasters have impacted their lives and livelihoods in a more casual setting.
Partyka said ultimately she hopes to paint with broad enough strokes that any Gulf resident in attendance will walk away with new knowledge about preparation and resilience, while also creating “a more personalized experience” for those who live in the community. All three sessions of Preparing for oil spills in the Eastern Gulf: Health, economic resilience, and community well-being are free and open to the public, with meals and snacks provided for attendees registered by May 2. You can contact Partyka directly with questions about the event at firstname.lastname@example.org or (251)348-5436.