Each year over 250.000 cases of missing children are reported in Europe. Key factors for the investigation of missing children include both the utilisation of new technologies and the promotion of social awareness. Therefore, the resolution of missing children cases can be more effective through utilisation of holistic systems, in which the harmonised collaboration among the authorities, humanitarian organisations and advance technology is imperative.
Within this overall framework, the need of location-based notifications available through a privacy-preserving mobile application is of high societal importance. These mechanisms will encourage citizens close to points of where a missing child was last seen, to become “social sensors” by contributing and providing case-related evidence. With that being said, UBITECH was motivated by the challenge of implementing this kind of application and alongside the unique social impact of the ChildRescue project, led the roll out of the app to the general public by addressing the aforementioned key aspects.
First and foremost, the instant communication among the citizens and the humanitarian organisations that handle missing children cases, constitutes towards a major aspect for the resolution to find missing children. Thus, a mechanism for location-based notifications available through citizens’ devices is of paramount importance. Innovative technological approaches were taken into account, such as location-based push notifications, and alerts based on mobile device locations are delivered, whenever the responsible organisation creates a case for a missing child and specifies its place of interest. This approach mobilises and accelerates the engagement of citizens who are in proximity to an area where a missing child was last seen.
Furthermore, not only do the location-based notifications facilitate the process of a missing child’s investigation, but also the validation of potential evidence may lead to the more rapid resolution of the case. Taking this into account, the ChildRescue mobile app acts as a direct communication channel between the general public and the organisation that handles the case. Information about active cases can be exchanged, which includes sharing public information, as well as feedback from the citizens.
With the aim of highlighting the importance of the citizens’ engagement, let us describe a potential case and how the general public could contribute to its resolution in practice. Let’s assume that a young child has suddenly disappeared in the centre of Athens and an Amber Alert has been activated. The responsible organisation utilises the ChildRescue platform and an alert is sent to the users’ mobile device, so that the citizens that are close to the area where the missing child was last seen can be notified. One hour after the notification has been sent, the Case Manager of the responsible organisation evaluates the feedback. Then, the Network Manager of the organisation mobilises the rescue team to go to Monastiraki Station by providing them with the proper guidance, based on the received feedback. The instant communication among the citizens who were in proximity to the place of interest and the responsible organisation, as well as the evaluation of the feedback, led the rescue team to the right place and the case was resolved successfully.
It goes without saying that the case of missing children is a rather sensitive issue for our society with a huge impact. Throughout the ChildRescue project, novel technological approaches offer significant opportunity for the general public to contribute to the investigation cycle of missing children. Let us all use technology in order to establish a safer Europe for children.