UTRGV panel focuses on disaster preparedness for people with disabilities

With hurricane season in full swing, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley hosted a panel in May to discuss disaster preparedness for individuals with disabilities and the importance of taking a proactive approach.

There are over 155,000 people with a disability over the age of 18 in the Rio Grande Valley and a large amount are unprepared to deal with disasters such as hurricanes, according to research from the university.

Students were split into groups of four to present their research findings in a forum with local fire chiefs and public health planners. The idea was to share important information with first responders to help mitigate difficulties during disasters.

Dean Kyne, an environmental sociology assistant professor and coordinator of disaster studies, said the student component allows the next generation to understand and solve these issues.

In the Rio Grande Valley, people are sometimes unwilling to leave their homes even when their personal safety is at play, and many of them have health problems, Kyne said.

“We were surprised that so many respondents were unwilling to evacuate,” UTRGV sociology senior Lisa Tresnicky said in a press release. “That just showed how important it is that we share this information and that we spread the awareness of how critical it is that they do prepare and take a proactive approach to disaster preparedness.”

Severe storms and flooding damaged homes and businesses across Hidalgo county in June 2018 and many people had to be evacuated.

“The current approach is (very) reliant on reactive rather than proactive,” he said. There are four stages for approaching disasters. Mitigation and preparedness, which are proactive stages, and response and recovery, which are reactive.

As long as the current strategy toward disasters is geared in a reactive approach, it will be difficult to take protective measures against flooding, he said.

There should be a balance between the two approaches, Kyne said.

The goal of the discussion between students and professionals was to plan and mitigate the difficulties caused by hurricanes or other disasters, and studying this population is part of understanding the Valley’s “resiliency” or the ability to recover and rebuild after a disaster, he said.

Ultimately the students will address the issues as future professionals, Kyne said, adding he wants to instill in them a “blueprint” to being proactive.

“It is very important to be on the same page, not only the authorities but also the individuals…so we can build a resilient community. Then we can absolve any kind of external (circumstances) or negative impacts from a disaster or series of disasters and we can bounce back to the normal conditions quickly,” Kyne said.