Recently, a pregnant mother and her 5-month-old daughter hitched a ride from Missouri to Texas. Along the way, the mother became ill and retreated to a public restroom, where she then suffered a miscarriage. The people who had given them a ride took the mother to a hospital, but then took off with the child.

Knowing the child had an illness, authorities used a program called ADAM, administered by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), to immediately provide photos and information about the child to all medical facilities in the area. When the perpetrators stopped at a clinic to get care for the child, they were immediately arrested.

ADAM, which was named in honor of kidnapping and murder victim Adam Walsh, uses Motorola interactive pagers and ChoicePoint imaging technology to flood law enforcement agencies, hospitals, fast-food restaurants, 7-Eleven stores and other local businesses with photos and information about missing children.

Time is Critical

An average of 87 children are reported missing every hour in the United States, and statistics show authorities have only about three days to find them alive. The greatest chance for success lies in getting information and photos out to the surrounding areas as quickly as possible. According to police, one out of every six missing children is recovered as a direct result of someone recognizing a photo and notifying authorities. At press time, ADAM had helped locate 20 missing children since its inception in November 2000.

ADAM evolved out of discussions between NCMEC and ChoicePoint about the best ways to get information out about missing children. "When a child is reported missing, statistically, every hour that passes from the time the abduction is reported diminishes the chances of the child being returned," said James Lee, vice president of marketing and communications for ChoicePoint.

The system has two components: a broadcast fax program and a pager program. The fax program was first out of the gate and involves the marriage of ChoicePoint's commercial database of fax numbers and NCMEC's contacts with law enforcement agencies nationwide.

"Traditionally, [law enforcement] would mail posters, or as e-mail became available, they could e-mail it to some locations. But virtually everyone has a fax," Lee said.

ChoicePoint's database contains nearly 4 million fax numbers for businesses and organizations where runaways or missing children might turn up. NCMEC helped ChoicePoint develop an additional database of approximately 22,000 law enforcement agency fax numbers, and another of media outlets around the country.

"We're the largest provider of public records in the country," Lee said. "We have 14 billion public records in our system and collect another 10,000 every day. We can classify information by business or by some other profile that the center wants."

When a law enforcement agency is notified of a missing person it immediately alerts NCMEC and provides any details and photos of the victim and/or possible perpetrators. NCMEC downloads the information into the ChoicePoint system, selects the desired fax numbers in the targeted areas, hits send and all the fax machines in those areas immediately start to spool off photos and information.

"We get information - that the child or abductor may be in a particular location, then we go ahead and target that area with all the fax numbers we have," said Ben Ermini, director of the missing children's division of NCMEC.

In another recent case, a convenience store manager in Utah received a faxed poster containing information about a runaway. When he looked closely at the photo he realized it was the same young lady he had just hired. "There was a good source of information that said the child was in Utah," Lee said. "And indeed, it was her employer who noticed the poster and called the center."

Approximately 120,000 locations around the nation are

Jim McKay, Editor  |  Editor