Every Child Deserves A Safe Childhood
June 2, 2023
The caller sounded concerned, although not agitated. Her 21-year-old daughter had left home 24 hours earlier, and she had not been heard from since.
The EPD followed Police Priority Dispatch System™ (PPDS®) Protocol 123: Missing/Runaway/Found Person to gather information appropriate in helping law enforcement locate the woman: height, hair color, length of hair. The caller said she appears several years younger than her actual age and wears eyeglasses.
An exchange of words between mother and daughter the night before may have prompted the morning departure, according to the recorded call. She walked out the door dressed in black pants and a black ski parka, carrying a “stuffed” backpack.
Heightening the risk was the mother’s answer to the EPD asking Protocol 123 Key Question 2: “Does she have any physical, medical, or mental conditions that we need to be aware of?”
“Yes,” her daughter is schizophrenic and has a learning disability. She does not drive and depends on public transportation. She is known to frequent places where vulnerable populations gathered, such as the public library, overnight shelter, and city park.
The mother had waited 24 hours to report the daughter missing because of her age.
Note: THERE IS NO WAITING PERIOD TO REPORT A MISSING PERSON. It is mandatory that law enforcement take missing persons reports immediately and enter the information into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) within two hours for missing persons under the age of 21. (Protect Act, Suzanne’s Law, Adam Walsh Child Protection Safety Act, and the Crime Control Act of 1990 were consolidated and codified into 34 USC § 41307 and 34 USC § 41308. There are no federal or state laws regarding reports on adults.1)
The EPD provided PDIs to assist the responding officer in identifying the daughter: a recent photo and a list of friends along with addresses and phone numbers. The mother was instructed to call police immediately if her daughter returned home or was located outside of law enforcement efforts.
The wording of Protocol 123’s questions and their order mirror the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) process, including the recent release of an updated policy and procedures guide specific to law enforcement.
The alliance between NCMEC and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™) about the standard-setting process for these types of events has spanned nearly two decades and continues today, said Dave Warner, Police Protocol, Academics and Standards Associate. Warner is the IAED law enforcement/protocol representative in workgroups with NCMEC and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International to establish, review, and update standards. He focuses on the scripted questions asked at the time the call is received.
“Many law enforcement calltaking centers want assurance they are meeting these standards, that they are doing all they can to process them efficiently, while also obtaining the best information possible for responding police,” Warner said.
Fred Miller, Senior Program Manager of Training in NCMEC's Outreach, Training and Prevention Department and a 40-year veteran of the Prince William County, Virginia (USA), Police Department, said the guide evolved from the Missing Kid Readiness Program that was created following NCMEC’s work to reunite children with their families in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Emergency dispatch’s commanding first link in the process ushered in collaboration between NCMEC and the IAED, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), APCO International, and Amber Alert.
The five organizations and emergency dispatchers from agencies across the country developed APCO ANS 1.101.3-2010 (Standard for Public Safety Telecommunicators When Responding to Calls of Missing, Abducted and Sexually Exploited Children). The guide was updated in 2015, then updated again and released in May 2022 to reflect changes to best practices for call intake, responses, and methodologies.
The 50-page document reflects national trends, such as social media, appropriate language, and the availability and prevalence of child sexual abuse material. Outside of the legal system, NCMEC no longer uses the term “child pornography,” Miller said, because the phrasing’s implication of informed consent on the victim’s part does not accurately reflect what is depicted—the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
The document is available at no cost to all communication centers—police, fire, and medical—and the questions are scripted to fit any party of caller. Law enforcement agencies and PSAPs recognized by the Missing Kids Readiness Program must use part or all of the ANSI standard.
The reflection of the ANSI standard and Protocol 123 further demonstrates the organizational alliance. Centers certified in the IAED Police Protocol are automatically in compliance.
Miller’s co-chairing of the ANSI update opened the door to revising NCMEC’s existing documents. He was editor of NCMEC’s model law enforcement policies and procedures for reports of missing children, co-wrote a field guide for responders in search of a missing child who is on the autism spectrum, and is a NCMEC representative on the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Home Safe project designed to safeguard individuals with dementia and developmental disabilities.
Again, NCMEC and IAED are in allegiance.
PPDS v7.0 (released Oct. 11, 2022) includes the addition of Jurisdictionally Approved Questions (JAQs) to determine if the missing child has autism spectrum disorder and if there are any hazardous locations near where the child went missing. This set of questions conforms to a pilot training program for emergency telecommunicators by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC).
This training targets emergency dispatchers, teaching them not only to ask callers whether the missing child is autistic, but how to recognize signs that the child may be autistic.2
Emergency dispatchers also learn to ask about hazards such as nearby bodies of water and whether the child is nonverbal, then to quickly communicate this information to law enforcement in case the child qualifies for an Enhanced Missing Child Alert.3 (The Enhanced Missing Child Alert targets a specific community within a pre-defined geographical radius and with information about a missing child.4)
People with autism are approximately twice as likely to die from drowning than members of the general population, and it is the leading cause of death among people with autism who wander.5
As Warner explained, the program provides the public with a description of the missing child through reverse 911 technologies, texting the cellphones in proximity of where the child went missing. A text message is sent alerting cellphone subscribers of the missing child event and the child’s description along with other pertinent information to locate the child before he or she encounters harm.
NCMEC is collaborating with the IACP training and technical assistance provided to grantees of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice’s “Kevin and Avonte Program: Reducing Injury and Death of Missing Individuals with Dementia and Developmental Disabilities.” The program provides guidance to reduce the number of deaths and injuries of individuals with forms of dementia such as Alzheimer's disease or developmental disabilities such as autism who, due to their condition, wander from safe environments.
Miller joined the NCMEC staff in 2019 with a background in law enforcement and emergency communications that complements NCMEC’s work. “Everything we do is designed to protect children,” Miller said. “It is rewarding when children are found safe or, if not, providing closure and support for their families.”
1 “Missing Person Clearinghouse.” Utah Department of Public Safety. 2022. https://bci.utah.gov/missing-persons/bci-forms/ (accessed Oct. 7, 2022).
2 “Missing and Endangered.” Florida Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse Advisory Board. Summer 2022. https://www.fdle.state.fl.us/MCIC/AdvisoryBoardNewsletter/Documents/Summer-2022-Missing-Endangered-Newsletter.aspx (accessed Oct. 6, 2022).
3 See note 1.
4 “FDLE develops autism awareness training for 911 telecommunicators.” Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 2022; Jan. 22. https://www.fdle.state.fl.us/News/2022/January/FDLE-develops-autism-awareness-training-for-911-te (accessed Oct. 6, 2022).
5 Martin C, Dillenburger K. “Behavioural Water Safety and Autism: a Systematic Review of Interventions.” Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2019; March 8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40489-019-00166-x (accessed Oct. 6, 2022).
- Runaways make up the majority of missing child cases.
- In 2021, NCMEC’s call center (1-800-THE-LOST) received 94,428 calls.
- In 2021, NCMEC assisted law enforcement, families, and child welfare with 27,733 cases of missing children.
- 1,111 children have been successfully recovered as a direct result of the Amber Alert program as of Dec. 31, 2021.
- In 2021, NCMEC tracked 395 attempted abductions involving 499 children, with a total of 14,902 incidents involving 18,867 children since they began tracking in 2005.
- The IAED Data Center reports 64,077 calls to 911 over the past three years by law enforcement agencies using PPDS and voluntarily providing the data. A majority were coded BRAVO (64.04%), followed by DELTA (33.86%), OMEGA (1.2%), and CHARLIE (0.9%).
Source: “Our 2021 Impact.” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. https://www.missingkids.org/content/ncmec/en/ourwork/impact.html (accessed Oct. 7, 2022).