VICTORIA -- British Columbia is unveiling a digital registration system for evacuees as the province prepares for the upcoming wildfire season while coping with physical distancing restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A statement from the Ministry of Public Safety says the new platform will allow communities to provide emergency support services, including evacuee self-registration and referrals.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the upgrade has been in the works since the conclusion of the devastating 2017 wildfire season.

He says shifting from an "archaic" paper-based system to a digital platform will not only speed services for evacuees, it will help volunteers and evacuees ensure safe physical distancing during the pandemic.

The digital system was successfully piloted in Kamloops and three other B.C. communities last year and the ministry says the system will be able to support direct payments to evacuees and suppliers by next year.

Kamloops chief administrative officer David Trawin says many emergency service volunteers are seniors who would not have been able to help this year because of concerns about physical distancing related to the old, paper-based system.

"It would have crippled us if we needed evacuations for floods and fire," Trawin says in the release.

"The new virtual registration system for emergency supports allows us to keep all our (emergency support services) volunteers."

The ministry says about 30,000 people rely on provincial help during emergencies every year and modernizing the registration system ensures they have quick access to lodging, food and clothing.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2020