Lingering Pandemic + Another Hurricane? LSU Helps Coastal Communities Prepare

July 01, 2021

Supporting Louisiana Communities Facing Dual Disasters

In the very first study to look at impacts of the ongoing pandemic on hurricane preparedness and resilience in Louisiana, researchers at LSU Health New Orleans partnered with more than two dozen community leaders in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and two predominantly rural parishes, St. Bernard and St. John the Baptist, to help validate facts on the ground and turn observations into actionable data. Most of the community leaders represent groups that routinely help residents prepare for, and recover from, severe weather events and flooding—a mission made more difficult by the need for social distancing imposed by COVID-19.

“In south Louisiana, we’re used to living with a baseline existential threat because of our perennial experience with hurricanes,” said Dr. Benjamin Springgate, chief of community and population medicine at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine and one of the lead authors of the study. “So, in some ways, we’re resilient and quick to act. We’ve built relationships both personal and organizational to help support one another. But many of the solutions that have worked for us in the past simply do not work in the context of the pandemic, including how we evacuate.”

Risk of infection also blends with fear of infection. Arthur Johnson, head of the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development in New Orleans (pictured above), knows this well. He wanted to be part of the LSU study to help elevate many of the concerns he has and hears on a daily basis in his own community, which predominantly consists of Black homeowners, many of whom live below the poverty level as well as below sea level, surrounded by water—wetlands, canals, and the Mississippi River.

“Our community struggles with a host of issues and is even more at risk when the rest of the world is at risk, there are less resources and volunteers to go around, and there is no ‘safer place’ to go,” Johnson said. “While hurricanes are geographically confined and you can get out of the way, there is no other place that’s safe in a global pandemic. Maybe you can evacuate—but evacuate and go where? Hopefully, public officials and decision-makers will be able to look at this study and find new ways to help.”

Arthur Johnson

Arthur Johnson leads the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, founded after Hurricane Katrina, which for many became a first lesson in how to stay in touch from a distance.

– Elsa Hahne / LSU

“You have plans and always think your plan is the best in the worst-case scenario you’ve imagined, but there’s always a worse-case scenario, and the pandemic has proven this.  However, the things we’ve learned and continue to learn can now benefit other community groups as their lessons benefit us through the LSU study.”

Diana Meyers, community leader at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans