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 receiving faxes on missing children per month, according to Lee. An average of 10,000 faxes within a five- to 15-mile radius are sent per missing child.
The fax program continues to improve as the pool of fax numbers grows and NCMEC and ChoicePoint continue to identify new target areas to include in the databases.
The pager program, which empowers NCMEC to send, through wireless communications, an image of a child or text to a cop on the street, was the second phase of ADAM.
"A police officer who has access to one of these pagers can send the poster or information to one pager or all pagers connected to the system," Ermini said.
The program started out with 12 pagers in 12 cities, but has grown. "ChoicePoint, through Motorola, has provided us with 50 pagers free for us to distribute to law enforcement," Ermini said. "We can also send alerts, information about a trend or some kind of incident that's occurring."
The pager program has been limited because of cost. But NCMEC and ChoicePoint are optimistic about the growth of the program.
"Law enforcement has not made great use of two-way pagers, and we weren't able to get additional support to get more pagers, so we retooled the system so that if somebody already had a pager we could just add them to the system," Lee said.
Considering the lack of pagers among law enforcement, ChoicePoint is adjusting its mindset to fit the needs of different entities. "Let's find out what type of things the police are using and find a way to put that on the system," Lee said. "And it's not just police officers who use this information. Physicians use PDAs a lot. If they're using a Palm 7, we can download directly to their Palm, as well as augment it with a fax."
The vision, according to Ermini, is that law enforcement will increasingly acquire two-way pagers, thus increasing the value of the program. "The potential for growth is in the pagers," he said. "As we increase the number of enforcement agencies and police officers that have access to the wireless pager, that's going to increase the ability to assist in locating missing children."