Chippewa County, MI is 1,558 square miles with over 37,700 residents across 21,457 households and 804 businesses. These demographics pose unique safety challenges during a missing person crisis. Here's how the county located a missing person in 30 minutes using mass notification.
According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, around 600,000 individuals go missing each year and with every new year that comes around, an estimated 100,000 cases remain active. When a person goes missing, the first few minutes and hours of the search are the most crucial. It’s rare for someone to go missing for more than a day and almost three-quarters of them are found within 24 hours.
As the hours tick on, the chance of someone returning home safe becomes slimmer. The first 72 hours of a missing person investigation is the most critical when it comes to protecting the integrity of the evidence and determining the danger the victim might be in. Police rely heavily on the watchful eyes of town residents as they search for evidence as to where a person may have gone, but to ensure those eyes are working, communication is key.
The news networks tend to focus on certain cases more than others - the age of the victim correlates inversely with the word count within a story, with each additional year of age corresponding to a 4.4 percent decrease in the word count. Improperly alerting people to a missing person’s report only decreases the chances of them being found safely.
How Chippewa County, MI Used Mass Notification to Locate a Missing Man
On September 23, 2018, an elderly man with dementia went missing from his home in Chippewa County, Michigan. The man had wandered away from his home before, but was usually found in the vicinity of the neighborhood where he was last seen. This time he wasn’t anywhere nearby. When 9-1-1 professional Michelle Robbins got the missing person call, she knew she had to reach out to the residents of the small town for their assistance.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, 94 percent of people with dementia or Alzheimer’s are found within 1.5 miles of where they disappeared. Equipped with mass notification software that gives officials the ability to instantly send alerts via text, email, and voice call— Robbins was able to send the message residents needed to be informed. Using the system's geo-fencing capability, Robbins was able to further target the 1.6 mile radius around the man's home. Robbins was able to adjust this geo-fence alert so that no messages went over the nearby Canadian border.
“Being able to message the community quickly and accurately is invaluable during a missing person case when every minute counts,” says Robbins.
It only took a matter of minutes for Robbins’ team to receive a lead. A woman from town got the notification and saw the missing man walking through her yard. Just 30 minutes from Robbins sending out the initial message, the missing man was located and returned to the safety of his home. Such a turnaround would not have been possible without their mass notification capabilities for quick and concise action. The most valuable asset, however, was the Chippewa County community’s sharp eyes and quick action.
“I ran into an acquaintance of mine afterward,” says Robbins, “and she told me that there was traffic on the street where the man had gone missing because everyone jumped in their cars to help look for him after receiving the message. It made believers out of our small community that mass notification is a good system, because they love to hear that it helped this incident have a happy ending.”
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