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Registry Systems and Disaster Preparedness for Communities of All Sizes

How Bruderheim's Rural Assist Program combines the components of early warning systems with vulnerable person registry to provide emergency support on the small-town scale

Disasters can wipe away people, places, homes, and memories that we cherish. Unfortunately, Canada has seen many such disasters in recent years, from wildfires to heat waves that have taken lives and destroyed homes. But digital tools have opened up new possibilities in emergency management and disaster response, offering opportunities for communities to prepare and protect themselves.

Many of these digital systems have been developed and are in use internationally, province-wide, and right in our communities. Major Canadian cities like Vancouver are dedicating major resources to developing such programs and systems. While we can sometimes laugh at the pitfalls of technology and human error (here’s looking at you, glitchy Alberta emergency test alerts), we also can see the real value in technology when a true emergency strikes. Communities of all sizes should be able to see how they can make these new technological opportunities work for them.

Early warning systems provide people in at-risk communities with more time to prepare, saving lives and memories

Early warning systems are a critical part of emergency management and public safety. By collecting data and predicting disastrous events, they can alert people before an event strikes. This gives people in at-risk communities more time to prepare, potentially saving lives and memories. For instance, during the 2021 heat dome in British Columbia, a lack of preparedness contributed to 619 heat-related deaths in just one week. Had more people had time to prepare, perhaps more lives could have been saved.

Vulnerable Persons Registry Systems allow people to register themselves or their loved ones who may require additional support during emergencies

Vulnerable Persons Registry Systems are another important tool in emergency management. These programs allow people to register themselves or their loved ones who may require additional support during emergencies. In Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, such a system has been implemented to help support people who may need assistance during emergencies, providing key information to local paramedics, police, and firefighters to help them designate and prioritize resources during a disaster. The program is a free service, available for anyone living in the city who has a disability or medical condition.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta, developed its Vulnerable Persons Registry System following the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires to help prepare the community to respond and support vulnerable community members during any future emergency event. This system gave a lot of design inspiration to Bruderheim's Rural Assist program.

Resilient Rurals’ Rural Assist models vulnerable population support and early warning that can be applied in smaller rural communities across Canada

Early warning systems can have national or provincial reach, and many major cities are developing their own systems and collecting their own sensor data to trigger alerts. With this large-scale focus, small and rural communities may be left behind and are particularly at risk due to their already limited resources. Vulnerable persons registries, however, can be an effective and relatively simple-to-implement tool for smaller communities, because of pre-existing tech like municipal notification tools and apps, and small population sizes.

To address this issue and take advantage of small-town opportunities, the Town of Bruderheim and Resilient Rurals developed a program, called Rural Assist, to provide an early warning and emergency support model for vulnerable people in small communities. Rural Assist ensures that provincial and industry alerts are communicated directly to people who are most impacted by events. But unlike most early warning systems, Rural Assist directly responds to the needs of a community member if they require support through the emergency—a feature similar to a vulnerable persons registry system. By providing additional information, clarification, and resources, Rural Assist seeks to empower and prepare vulnerable community members.

In the Rural Assist model, smaller community populations are a strength—being a small-town means it's much more feasible to run down the street to help a neighbor in need.

Rural Assist in Action

In partnership with the lead town, Bruderheim, AB, the team has developed and is currently piloting Rural Assist. Eligible residents include those with reduced mobility, caregiver dependence, equipment dependence, heat sensitivity by condition or medication, and concerns with air quality.

Through the pilot program, the Bruderheim staff can provide those registered with the program additional resources, critical information, and support to those who need it most. For instance, if a heat wave is expected, an early warning alert will be sent through the notification platform to the Rural Assist contact list to inform people about heat risks and provide educational resources. If further support is needed, people can connect with the Town Office.

If you or your loved ones live in the Town of Bruderheim and would like to register with Rural Assist, please visit the link or the Town Office today.


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