Rave blog Post

Abandon Paper Registries, Not Vulnerable Populations: 7 Best Practices to Move Your Paper Registry Online

The objectives of a Vulnerable Needs Registry are to make sure the right resources are in the right place to help the right people at the right time. Yet many registries are still maintained on paper - making them difficult to keep up-to-date and potentially delaying the provision of help to those who need it most.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew ripped through Southern Florida causing billions of dollars of damage, leaving 160,000 residents homeless, and taking the lives of sixty-five people. The loss of life could have been much greater had areas of Broward and Dade Counties not been evacuated for expected Category 4 flooding, as these areas were affected the most by Hurricane Andrew’s 165mph winds.

The following year, the state of Florida enacted legislation requiring emergency management agencies to create and maintain a vulnerable needs registry. The registry was of vital use when Hurricane Irma struck 25 years later, as it facilitated the early evacuation of more than five thousand vulnerable residents who were kept safe from the hurricane in sixty special needs shelters.

Issues with Vulnerable Needs Registries

In 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) produced an overview of the issues encountered by jurisdictions that were planning to establish - or who had already established - a Vulnerable Needs Registry. Among the most commonly-encountered issues were establishing eligibility criteria, promoting the Registry and getting citizens to participate in the service.

Whereas FEMA suggested viable solutions to these issues, the overview did little to tackle the issue of sharing data across jurisdictions, or across agencies within the same jurisdiction. Weather-related disasters rarely affect only a single area, and even in those cases, neighboring counties are often brought into the response process to provide additional personnel and support.

Part of the problem was - and is still - that many Vulnerable Needs Registries are maintained on paper or on Access and Excel databases. Unlike web-based online databases, there is no way to share critical information securely during an emergency and in compliance with the privacy and security safeguards of the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Maintaining a paper or non-portable database also creates issues with regard to keeping data up-to-date. In its Registry overview, FEMA noted “out-of-date or incorrect information can hinder rather than facilitate emergency response and planning efforts”. However, the agency also acknowledged that the process of manually updating registrants’ profiles can be time-consuming and costly.

Moving a Paper or Other Registry Online: 7 Best Practices

Moving a paper or other non-portable registry online does not necessarily have to be resource-intensive.  By following our 7 best practices, state and local emergency management agencies can save time and money, and operate a Vulnerable Needs Registry that fulfills the objective of making sure the right resources are in the right place to help the right people at the right time.

1. Online Registration

The current process of populating a Vulnerable Needs Registry typically involves a citizen completing a form and emailing it or posting it to the administrator of the database, who then has to add the citizen’s details to the registry manually. With online registration, citizens can sign up for services from a computer, tablet or mobile phone and eliminate the manual process.

2. Caregiver Accessibility

In many cases, a person with additional needs may not be able to complete a registration form independently, lessening the odds that they will choose to participate. An online registration process allows caregivers, family members or outpatient providers to assist residents who wish to sign up, but may not be able to due to a physical impairment. 

3. Standardized Questions

The standardization of questions can facilitate portability between agencies and jurisdictions. It will also facilitate the standardization of answers - giving agencies operating across multiple jurisdictions a better understanding of the level of services required. Due to number of agencies potentially involved in a post-emergency scenario, the questions need to be as comprehensive, but not so comprehensive it confuses the registrant.

An ideal database would ask questions that “unlock” more specific questions based on the answers. For example, selecting “I have a mobility impairment,” could activate a series of follow-up questions such as:

  • “Are you able to walk up/down stairs?”
  • “Do you require the use of a wheelchair?”
  • “Are you able to self-transport to a location within one mile of your home?”

4. Automated Reminders

As FEMA noted, it is essential registrants’ data is kept up-to-date in order to facilitate emergency response and planning efforts. A quarterly reminder should be automatically sent by multiple channels of communication (in case a mobile phone number or email address has changed) to citizens and caregivers, and the reminder should be supported by regional advertising.

5. Community-Wide Promotion and Engagement

One of the recommendations made by FEMA was for emergency management agencies to collaborate with community partners to determine registry requirements. This collaboration should be extended to engage churches, voluntary organizations and health departments in order to raise awareness of the Vulnerable Needs Registry and to encourage citizens to register.

6. Cross-Jurisdictional & Cross-Agency Accessibility

This best practice is a must to optimize the benefits of an online Vulnerable Needs Registry. Often personnel from multiple counties and agencies are brought in to provide assistance during the evacuation and response process. If ‘outside’ emergency managers can quickly identify citizens who need assistance, this will help streamline the response process and deliver a better outcome. 

7. Sortable and Searchable Database

In order to be able to quickly identify citizens who need assistance, the database needs to be sortable and searchable. This will help quickly identify citizens who (for example) do not speak English, are hard of hearing, or who have pets. Different agencies can then provide their specialized services where required, without wasting time or resources by duplicating the work of other agencies.


In 2013, a study looked into the feasibility of implementing a Vulnerable Needs Registry in New York City. It concluded there were a significant number of “gaps in the current special needs registry framework” and raised concerns about the costs and resources required. However, implementing a Vulnerable Needs registry need not be expensive nor resource intensive.

As technology moves forward, “off-the-shelf” Vulnerable Needs Registries empower citizens to take their safety into their own hands. They can register and update their information securely, and transfer their data to other databases should they move. Data can be accessed, sorted and searched with the click of a mouse by emergency management managers across multiple jurisdictions and agencies.

The cost of the software is significantly less expensive than building a potentially non-compatible database from scratch, and there are minimal administrative overheads. Furthermore, accurate citizen-provided information displayed on interactive maps will give emergency management agencies better data to better prepare for an emergency.

Find out more about how your emergency management agency or local government department could better prepare for an emergency by downloading our Rave Prepare whitepaper. Our whitepaper provides all the information you need to determine whether it is an appropriate solution to make sure the right resources are in the right place to help the right people at the right time,

abandon paper registries whitepaper

Jackson Lucas
Jackson Lucas

Jackson - an enthusiastic rock climber and storyteller - focuses his time on content creation, fixing the website, SEO strategy and working with current Rave customers to make sure they have the proper tools and knowledge to execute successful community marketing campaigns. In a previous life, he was an avid scientist and environmentalist. He spent his undergraduate career studying rocks and educating others on environmental sustainability and eco-justice. He also spent 4 years diligently researching the history of climate change in Antarctica to better understand today's changing world. Jackson holds a Bachelor of Arts in Geology from Colgate University.

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