My name is Brooke Felt, and I am a PSO Graduate Research Assistant with the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. I am working on my master’s in clinical social work and public health with a focus on health promotion and behavior at the University of Georgia. My interests are working with populations who have experienced disasters, coastal communities and the social determinants of health. During my time with the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, I found a new passion for issues surrounding climate change and its impact on the mental and physical health of coastal populations that are dealing with extreme weather, natural hazards and sea level rise.

Over the past year I have worked with Georgia Sea Grant’s Associate Director, Mona Behl, to complete the Georgia Resident’s Handbook for Natural Hazards. This project was modeled after the Hawaii Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards created by the Hawaii Sea Grant. The purpose of the handbook is to give Georgia residents a comprehensive resource on natural hazards relevant to the state and provide them with tips on how to prepare.

Due to my social science background, my main focus for the handbook has involved ensuring the information is accessible to all Georgia residents and includes current resources people can utilize to meet their needs. The goal is to be as inclusive as possible by recognizing that not all people have equal access to resources and being mindful of barriers that people face when preparing for natural hazards. Social work continuously points back to connecting people to resources and finding alternatives when certain options aren’t feasible. It is important to me that we intentionally include diverse resources and alternatives in the handbook. People need a variety of tools in order to prepare for natural hazards, and for many people, it isn’t a “one tool fits all” approach.

The Georgia Resident’s Handbook for Natural Hazards is different from other states’ handbooks in a few ways. In order to be inclusive and comprehensive, the handbook includes sections on mental health, sexual assault and post-disaster resources. It also includes information about preparing for hazards with children, pets and the elderly as well as information for people with functional and access needs, and renters. We also hope to translate the handbook into Spanish in the future to provide for the large Spanish-speaking population in Georgia.

Now that the handbook project has come to a close, my latest project involves gathering research about climate-induced human mobility and highlighting the social science and health-related aspects of climate change on coastal populations. Bringing the social work and public health perspective to this research allows me to focus on population vulnerabilities and social justice issues that result from a changing climate. My overall goal is to highlight the gaps in the literature and find potential research topics that will inform efforts over the next few years.

Overall, my experience with the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has created in me a greater passion for working with coastal communities and climate change. There is so much space for interdisciplinary work in this field, and it is encouraging to see how valued different perspectives are. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had this past year and the opportunities it has created for future work.