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The town in which I live has seen its share of trouble. Some of the trouble is caused by nature. As I sit here writing this, we are being visited by a violent thunderstorm, as we are almost every day during the summer. Not only do the thunderstorms sometimes cause damage, but the heavy rains provide an environment where mosquitoes (as well as other insects)  propagate at a level most people cannot even imagine. It was no accident that William Gorgas, E O Wilson, and others focused their great intellects on insects after growing up in Mobile. We got a lot of bugs, many of which cause diseases in humans. Oh yeah, and every couple of years we get hurricanes. Some, like Katrina, create enough of a stir that we forget about the bugs for a while.

As if this weren’t enough, humans seem intent on adding to our woes. Southern novelists have filled books on the theme of  “man’s inhumanity to man.” In one of the greatest ironies of all, America’s quest for cheap oil (drill, baby, drill) landed 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Much of this oil went on to disrupt the economy of Alabama either directly (can’t catch fish through oil) or indirectly (wanna drive 300 miles and see if the beaches are clean today?).

Given hurricanes, oil spills, lots of mosquitoes that might carry West Nile disease, not to mention the general hardships of living, life can be tough. This being the case, we on the coast should cultivate and value the ability to quickly recover from disasters and get back to status quo.

That is why I read with interest that a “Resilience Capacity Scale” has been developed. The initial story that I read (“What’s our resilience capacity?” Mobile Press-Register, link now available) did not lead me to believe this new scale would be useful. The article implied that the information used to create the scale was unfairly biased against Alabama and Mississippi. In searching for that article to link to, I found another article from an Alabama newspaper, with site comments that do seem to show anger at this perceived bias. Here is a representative response:

This study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered by the University of California, Berkeley. No doubt the 12 economic, socio-demographic, and community connectivity indicators are from the perspective of the socialist mentality of the John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and their fellow travelers at the U of California at Berkely [sic].

I have subsequently spent a little time with the instrument, found here. The purpose, it turns out, is not to further the socialist agenda  but:

One way to assess a region’s resilience is by its qualities to cope with future challenges, a concept we label resilience capacity. Developed by Kathryn A. Foster, member of the BRR research network and director of the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, the Resilience Capacity Index (RCI) is a single statistic summarizing a region’s score on 12 equally weighted indicators—four indicators in each of three dimensions encompassing Regional Economic, Socio-Demographic, and Community Connectivity attributes. As a gauge of a region’s foundation for responding effectively to a future stress, the RCI reveals regional strengths and weaknesses, and allows regional leaders to compare their region’s capacity profile to that of other metropolitan areas.

The capacity is determined by an assessment of regional economic capacity (resilient communities have a narrow range of income across households, diversification of the  economy, affordable housing relative to income levels, and hospitable business environments as measured by business churn and access to venture capital and broadband), socio-demographic capacity (resilient communities have high levels of college-educated people and low levels of non-high school graduates, low proportions of the population with disabilities or living in poverty, and high proportions of people with health insurance) and community connectivity ((resilient communities have high rootedness and familiarity, with low in- and out-migration and high homeownership coupled with commitment to place demonstrated by the presence of civic organizations and high voter turnout). Mobile did not do badly in economic resilience (170/361) and community connectedness (171/361) but did very poorly in socio-demographic  (303/361).

So our global score of LOW (229/361) does not reflect the discounting of church membership (as was suggested in our local paper) but instead is reflective of our poorly educated populace who have a relatively high rate of disability, who are less likely to be employed and more likely to live in poverty, and who are less likely to have health insurance than all but 61 of the metropolitan areas assessed.

Following the Gulf Oil Spill, a leadership driven process produced a report entitled A Roadmap to Resilience. In this process, several hundred community leaders came together to “Build regional capacity for long term resilience.” They pledged to “Keep it simple.” This report is 194 pages and includes everything from drug education to building a $500,000,000 bridge with federal funds. Turns out, they could have greatly increased the resilience of Mobilians by focusing on three things:

  • An education system second to none from K-graduate school
  • Universal access to healthcare
  • Full employment

I think for those of us down here on the mosquito coast, that’s not too much to ask.

Y’know, a town with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it!

Lyle Lanley

As you may recall, there was an oil incident in the gulf. As a consequence, Mobile Alabama is expecting a rather large windfall. Apparently, the fines associated with the oil spill could range from 4 to 16 billion dollars and are supposed to stay in the Gulf Coast region. Consequently, each of the affected states (though some feel more affected than others) will get some of this money to mitigate the damages.

Alabama put together a Coastal Recovery Commission, which was created by the Governor and populated by his office, various local politicians, and representatives of coastal concerns. This commission was charged with creating a roadmap leading to the transformation of the gulf region into one of increased resiliency. In their words:

We must position ourselves to respond not only to future oil spills but also to other forces beyond our control, including everything from hurricanes to sudden shifts in the economic environment. We must assure a future for our coast that strengthens its appeal to visitors and investors from around the world and protects its environmental assets for generations to come.

To do this they determined that a roadmap approach would be most effective.

Then, we will propose bold but attainable goals, based on the most authoritative research and reality-tested best practices. Our roadmap should guide Alabama, regional, and national leaders in implementing policies that protect, preserve and enhance the assets that make Alabama’s Gulf Coast so important, not only to Alabamians, but to the Gulf region and the nation as a whole.

The commission published the “Roadmap to Resiliance” here. The commission identified problems not only with the physical enviroment but the human environment (health care, education, economic development, and insurance). Problems identified may be directly related to the spill but more often than not were related to our physical location (hurricane alley) as well as the long term problems associated with limited educational resources and an economy that suffers from too little diversity.

The solutions take up 17 pages. Some are fairly vague but “feel good” such as “”Restore and enhance habitat for fisheries as needed.” Some are very concrete: “Require fire protection every 1,000 feet where public water is available.” Some are relatively inexpensive: “Combine county efforts for regional events.” Some would take all of the money for one project: “Build the I-10 Bridge and make it spectacular with reasons for travelers to stop at the Mobile end, not just pass on through – follow the example of the Sydney Opera House or the Bilboa, Spain, museum – a building that could house a Southern Cultural Center or the like.”

The aspect of this report that caught my eye was written up here in our local paper.

A gubernatorial commission making recommendations for oil spill recovery urges the creation of a Mobile-based Center for Coastal Health with a wide-ranging mission to address and research primary care, mental health, lifestyle issues and disaster response.The proposal for the independent center at the University of South Alabama is outlined in the 198-page report that the Alabama Coastal Recovery Commission gave to Gov. Bob Riley this month in Montgomery.

The commission report said that the center should focus on four areas: occupational health for coastal populations; primary care and mental health; disaster preparedness and management; and minority health care, including the mental health needs of immigrant and refugee populations.

Dr. Richard Powers, medical director for the Alabama Department of Mental Health, said the spill revealed that the coastal region is largely ill-equipped to “deal with its unique health needs” during times of crisis. Powers, a Riley appointee to the commission, said, “It would be nice to have a group of smart health care professionals wired to the national networks to be looking after our welfare, and not have to summon them up every time a disaster happens.”

Start-up of the center would likely cost $30 million to $50 million, according to Powers. He suggested that the funding should come from fines and grant payments made by BP PLC, majority owner of the ruptured well.

According to the commission report, the new center and its faculty would be supported by a foundation established for that purpose.

Now that’s a mule I can get behind.