HALIFAX — Advocates are welcoming a new registry in Halifax that helps vulnerable citizens receive specialized help during emergencies, but they say the service should be available across the province.
The city announced Wednesday it is accepting applications for a voluntary registry that will include information on such things as a person's mobility problems and whether they are hearing or vision impaired. That data will be accessible to emergency workers so that they can tailor their responses to vulnerable people during times of crisis.
As well, when the program is activated during a flood, wildfire or other disasters, a warning will be sent through the municipality's mass notification system to registrants, their representative or legal guardian, and emergency contacts.
Anne Camozzi, a 69-year-old woman who uses a wheelchair and lives alone in Antigonish, N.S., said Thursday the launch of the Halifax system is "wonderful," but she added that climate disasters and other emergencies can hit any community in the province.
"People with disabilities who live alone are not vulnerable under ordinary circumstances, but in a wide-scale emergency or disaster we are made vulnerable, often because of needs that are very hard to organize in the chaos," she said in an interview. "I really applaud Halifax Regional Municipality for getting this done."
But she added that the province's smaller cities and rural areas will need help from the provincial government to follow the capital's example.
"In many other municipalities, the emergency management office is a volunteer position," Camozzi said. "They don't have the capacity to build these registries without funding from the provincial government."
The Halifax registry is the second to begin operating in the province; the Kings County Regional Emergency Management Organization has operated a similar system since 2019.
Erica Fleck, Halifax's director of emergency management, estimated that about 50,000 vulnerable citizens, ranging from people with disabilities to those who may have special medical needs — such as access to oxygen — could apply to be registered. As of Thursday, 22 people had signed up, she said.
Gerry Post, former executive director of Nova Scotia's accessibility directorate, joined Camozzi in praising Halifax for setting up the registry, and said the next logical step is for the province to take a leadership role in assisting all municipalities to have similar systems.
Doing so wouldn't be expensive, as free software has been developed, but the province could provide expertise, common standards and a small amount of funding for computer equipment, Post said.
"Small municipalities are going to need some technical support, some training, and a little bit of financial support. These systems are not expensive," he said in an interview Thursday.
Andy Thompson, a councillor in the Municipality of Pictou County, said in an interview that small communities like his need assistance as they cope with hurricanes and other climate-related disasters.
"The province has the keys to the kingdom on this … we need them at the table. Otherwise, there will be 49 different ways of doing these registries," he said Thursday, referring to the number of municipalities in the province. "To me, that's the definition of insanity."
Fleck said that the annual cost in Halifax will involve hiring a full-time staff person dedicated to tasks that include processing applications for registration.
However, John Lohr, minister of municipal affairs, says municipalities are best placed to set up the registries.
"The reality is the municipalities have the resources and the services and know their people best," he said at the legislature on Thursday.
"We're funding them (municipalities) more and we continue to be engaged in conversations with them about all their priorities," he added. "If the municipalities want that (registries) to be part of the ongoing conversation that would be something we would discuss."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press