There are almost 180,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley living with a disability, and most are not prepared to deal with a disaster like a hurricane.

Recent findings like those from students in a disasters studies course at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley showed a disturbing trend of unwillingness among area residents to abandon their homes in favor of personal safety. 

“We were surprised that so many respondents were unwilling to evacuate,” said Lisa Tresnicky, a UTRGV senior from Mercedes who is majoring in sociology. “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.”

 

FILLING RESEARCH VOID

Tresnicky was one of a group of UTRGV students who presented their research findings to local emergency management officials during a panel forum in May.

Antonio Lopez, Weslaco emergency management coordinator, was one of the panelists.

“We are a lot of times tasked with the response, the mitigation and the recovery of things,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time to do that research. So, when we partner up with the university to bring that data to us, it’s going to make our response a lot better.”

Lopez said some of the numbers presented were higher than expected.

“The research from the four groups from this program really puts it into perspective for us,” he said.

 

SHARING INFORMATION DIRECTLY

Dr. Dean Kyne, a UTRGV assistant professor in the disaster studies program, said disaster preparation can be a very complicated process.

“Now the students know there are a lot of challenges for the preparedness, especially for the disabled population. The complexity is there,” he said.

The conventional way to share research is by publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. And while there are plans to publish the findings, Kyne said that as part of the course’s service-learning component, “We have to provide the findings directly to the end-user, who are the emergency managers here.”

 

SEEING THE STUDY’S IMPACT

While the overall goal of the research is to improve the Valley’s disaster resiliency and sustainability, the forum also helped students see the value of their work.

“It was a great opportunity to share the data we gathered with key stakeholders in the community,” Tresnicky said. “It made me feel that what we did is important. Our data can help enhance the preparedness of this vulnerable population.”

Lopez, the Weslaco emergency management coordinator, said he is optimistic about future disaster communications in the Valley.

“By getting this research – and hopefully in the future continuing the collaboration with the UTRGV disaster studies program – this will give us all the data we need to continue improving,” he said.

To learn more about the UTRGV disaster studies program, visit https://www.utrgv.edu/sociology/graduate/disaster-studies-ma/index.htm

To learn how to prepare for a disaster, visit ready.gov.