New high-tech web tool aims to enlist Canadians to help find missing kids

TORONTO — Thousands of children are reported missing across the country each year but only a handful of Amber Alerts are issued, potentially leaving large numbers of people who might be able to help find them in the dark.

Now, a new website that aims to reach far more people than is currently the case — especially those who might be close to where the child went missing — is launching on Tuesday.

“It’s the real-time opportunity for Canadians to see in one network all of the missing children cases and specifically the ones that they can help with in their area,” said Amanda Pick, CEO of the non-profit Missing Children’s Society of Canada. “The more Canadians that become involved in this, the higher the ability we have to protect a child and find a child when they go missing.”

Based on information provided by police, the society’s Rescu website allows users to view all active cases by geographic region. Names, photographs and other relevant data about a missing child is available at the click of a mouse. Users who might have useful information can provide tips by clicking on the name or picture of the child.

The new web application also allows users to register to receive text alerts on their cellphones specific to cases in their area. The faster a child is found, the more likely they can be returned unharmed to safety, data indicate.

RCMP data indicate more than 42,000 children were reported missing last year — the vast majority are found safe — but police activated fewer than 10 Amber Alerts due to the high threshold of urgency required to do so.

Despite their infrequency, late night Amber Alerts via cellphones have sparked a backlash among some recipients. The Rescu system allows alerts to be narrowcast only to people who have signed up. Depending on circumstances, alerts can be sent to a wider area.

“This is a volunteer opportunity,” Pick said from Calgary. “You can enable a push notification when it makes sense for you.”

Only cases police deem pressing are expected to become alert material, the society said. As a result, those who sign up won’t be bombarded by alerts, or receive both Amber Alerts and Rescu texts. There’s no charge to users, who won’t be tracked. Tipsters can stay anonymous or provide names and email addresses if they want.

The website, accessible via any computer of smartphone browser without any downloads at https://rescu.mcsc.ca, is powered by cutting-edge “hub” technology from Toronto-based Esri Canada that allows for the management and dissemination of data.

Alex Miller, the company’s president, said he expected police and social-service workers involved with missing children will also use the system.

“They currently don’t have a way to easily share this information,” Miller said. “(But) if you provide the tools, people will come together.”

Both the Calgary Police Service and Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service are first to adopt the web app, which can be continually updated with new information, for their missing children investigations.

Pick said the hope is for widespread uptake among Canadians.

“It only takes one person,” Pick said. “(But) the more Canadians that become involved in this, the higher the ability we have to protect a child and find a child when they go missing.”

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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