Friday, February 25, 2022

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The Disaster Studies program at UTRGV is hosting a webinar advocating for Special Needs Shelters in the area’s disaster preparedness planning.

The one-hour webinar will be online and starts at noon Tuesday, March 1. It will include discussions on the topic from the following panelists:

  • Dean Kyne, associate professor and Disaster Studies program director, UTRGV Department of Sociology.
  • William Donner, professor and chair, UTRGV Department of Sociology.
  • Arlett Lomeli, assistant professor, UTRGV Department of Sociology.
  • Jeannette Zallar, UTRGV MA Disaster Studies alumna, property/evidence technician, UTRGV Police Department.
  • Santos Castaneda, lead case manager, Cameron County Public Health.
  • Ricardo Saldaña, Hidalgo County emergency management coordinator.
  • Thomas Hushen, Cameron County emergency manager.

Kyne said the most vulnerable population in the event of a disaster are those who are chronically ill, have disabilities or need special accommodations.

“These are people who have limited resources and are less prepared and have to depend on other people to prepare in the event of a disaster,” he said.

The idea of the webinar stemmed from Zallar’s master’s thesis, “Evaluating Disaster Evacuation Plans of Families with Special Medical Needs (SMN) in the Rio Grande Valley: A Proposal for Providing a Special Needs Disaster Shelter,” which calls for the creation of SNS in Texas.

Zallar, who graduated from UTRGV in December 2021, looked at the preparedness of the special needs population, types of disabilities or illnesses, expectations of the population and how far they can travel, and how many days they would need assistance.

“After some research, I discovered Florida and other states already had these kinds of shelters,” Zallar said. “I thought, why don’t we have one? We’re in the target area for hurricanes. Why don’t we have special needs disaster shelters? Maybe one could be built.”

A special needs shelter differs from a regular shelter in that it is equipped with medical equipment necessary for a diverse set of needs.

“This is a useful study, and we are sharing this information and creating an awareness for key stakeholders who are responsible for providing these types of services,” Kyne said. “We are showing our leadership and initiative in academic research, and we are collaborating and engaging the community to find out what the needs are, and what kind of services will be needed.”

Register for the webinar online at


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.