Don’t get hung up on ‘vulnerable’ as the registry could be a life saver in an emergency

MANITOULIN—The Vulnerable Persons Registry (VPR) is meant to provide peace of mind in the event of a large-scale emergency for persons with vulnerabilities, such as mobility issues or hearing loss. People tend to get hung up on the word ‘vulnerable,’ says VPR Coordinator Amanda Sheppard. The registry is confidential, there’s no cost, there’s little risk and people on the list will be helped during a large-scale emergency.

A person qualifies as vulnerable for the registry if they have: any vision vulnerability that’s not fixed by glasses; any sort of hearing difficulty; any sort of mobility issue or someone who is bedridden; any sort of developmental intellectual issues or cognitive impairment; or any sort of severe mental health issues. Being on any life-sustaining equipment that requires electricity, such as home oxygen or dialysis equipment, also qualifies. “It’s a pretty lengthy list,” said Ms. Sheppard. “It’s all self-qualifying, so there’s no need for a doctor’s form.”

The Manitoulin VPR is just another layer of emergency management preparation, so if a municipality ever had to evacuate, or there was no power for several days, or a blizzard or a flood, for example, the township would be able to pull up a list of the most vulnerable people in the community to be better able to help and assist them during those large-scale emergencies, Ms. Sheppard explained.

The VPR first started in Sault Ste. Marie. It was motivated by the tragic death of Lewis Wheelan, a former resident of Sault Ste. Marie who was wheelchair bound and reliant on air conditioning to control his body temperature following a 2001 workplace accident. He was living in southern Ontario during the 2003 blackout. None of his family were able to check in on him to see if he was okay and he wasn’t part of any service program. He passed away due to being without electricity.

Mr. Wheeler’s family, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and the City of Sault Ste. Marie worked to create the VPR program, which first launched there in 2011. It expanded to other areas in 2019 and now covers north to Wawa, White River, all of Algoma, Manitoulin and the North Shore, and areas of Sudbury East, like the French River.

“We’ve been working with the community of Killarney as well,” Ms. Sheppard said. Killarney didn’t have VPR in place during the 2018 wildfire and this would have been absolutely perfect at that time, she said. “They were very excited to get the VPR in place.”

The VPR is simply a list of names of vulnerable persons, shared with a township’s emergency management coordinator, who would make the decisions on when to reach out to individuals. Ms. Sheppard manages the list itself, adding names and ensuring the information is current. 

“The information is housed in our secure database and we give the emergency management coordinators of each township access to the information,” she explained. “We require them once a month to get that information, print a copy of it to have a hard copy safe somewhere, so if there’s ever an emergency and they can’t access the internet, they have the information and can do whatever they need to do with it.”

The VPR expanded into the Manitoulin area in 2019 but has not received many registrants yet. It’s been hard to reach people during the pandemic, Ms. Sheppard said. “Even the Soo registry that for all the years maintained a consistent number dipped down quite a bit during COVID. We’re now starting to get those numbers back up.”

There are currently only about 10 persons registered from Manitoulin and they would like to see more. Outreach activities have restarted with advertisements in The Manitoulin Expositor, and Ms. Sheppard will be reaching out to townships in the coming weeks. “We’ll see how that goes and also try other things and see how it’s best to reach Island community members,” she said. “I know everybody reads the paper.”

The VPR also works for seasonal residents. The registry has the ability to ‘lock’ or hide somebody from the list while they are away. As long as they let Ms. Sheppard know, she can hide (lock) them during the winter months and ‘unlock’ them during the summer months when those residents are back on the Island.

Lori McDonald, marketing and communications coordinator with the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, said outreach has been hard for the past two-and-a-half years during COVID. “Now that things are opening up a little bit, we want to really share the stories about VPR, what it’s doing for the registrants and how the service can make all the different in the world in the event of a large-scale emergency,” she said.

Adding your name to the VPR is completely free, noted Ms. Sheppard. “There’s no cost to register. The townships don’t pay anything. It’s funded through the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board.”

“There’s literally no risk in people signing up,” added Ms. McDonald. “It’s completely confidential. The information provided to Amanda at the time of registration is not public whatsoever. The only time that information is shared is with the responders in the event of an emergency or where Amanda would have to make phone calls and connect with these people.”

The term vulnerable doesn’t sit well with some people, Ms. McDonald said. “Even to the point where we wondered if we should keep the word vulnerable.”

Someone might be doing fine and live on their own and not want to sign up for something called a vulnerable persons registry, but they might be a little hard of hearing, she added. “They don’t consider themselves vulnerable, but they are able to sign up for this registry, and if a fire alarm’s going off, maybe they can’t hear it but responders will have that information that so and so is hard of hearing.”

Essentially, the purpose of the VPR is to try and increase people’s safety by ensuring somebody is there to help during those emergency situations. For more information or to register for the Manitoulin VPR, contact Amanda Sheppard at 705-942-7927 extension 3041 or by email to