How the Police are Using SMS to Find People in Emergency Situations

Police are Using SMS to Find People in Emergency Situations

Technology’s new role in finding missing persons

The New South Wales Police Force have teamed up with telcos and the public to find missing persons in Australia by sending text messages with information about “high risk” subjects. This is a welcome step for a number of reasons.

In the year 2000, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported that around 30,000 people went missing in Australia on a yearly basis – or, in their words, “one person every 18 minutes.” That number was more than victims of unarmed robberies, sexual assaults, and homicides combined.

Fast forward to date, and the numbers have gotten even higher. The Australian Federal Police now report that over 38,000 persons are reported missing in Australia every year – that’s a 27 percent increase in missing persons in 21 years.

This is troubling for many reasons, but especially for the fact that Australia has seen a significant decline in crime in general over the same period. So why, then, are missing person reports increasing?

Whatever your answer to that question may be, we can all agree that this is a problem that needs to be solved – and quickly.

The New South Wales (NSW) Police Force is now working with the major telcos to search for missing persons with your help. Their system will use SMS to alert phone users of high risk missing persons in their area. We’ll tell you all about it in this post, so read on to find out how you could play a role in helping someone find their way home.

NSW Police Force join telcos to find missing persons

If you have a Telstra, Optus, or TPG Telecom (Vodafone) SIM plan, then you could receive an alert from the NSW Police Force informing you of a missing person who might be in your area.

The NSW Police Force has joined the major telcos to help find “high risk” missing persons in Australia. The system uses geo-targeting to zone in on mobile phones in specific areas of concern, informing users that a missing person could be in the area.

Although the system is only being used by the NSW Police Force to find missing persons in that state, telco customers could receive an alert regardless of what part of the country they are – so long as there is concern that a missing person may be in that area.

The SMS alert messages include the following information about high risk missing persons:

  • A description of the subject
  • Information on how to report any knowledge or sighting of the subject

The NSW Police Force’s decision to only send out alerts about “high risk” missing persons is a good one. Such persons include children with disabilities, people with dementia, and young people who were in a large crowd when they went missing. With these parameters in place, you can be comforted by the fact that your mobile phone won’t be flooded with a string of alerts for every single missing person.

And while other states and territories haven’t implemented this system for missing persons,  NSW is a great place to start as a pilot program given their high number of missing persons over the years. For instance, last year alone saw close to 10,000 persons go missing in NSW. And while the vast majority of them were eventually found, 18 were missing for more than 90 days and 12 are still missing to date.

The emergency alert system has been around for years

The NSW Police Force has taken a great step by teaming up with telcos and members of the public to help find missing persons. But the emergency system isn’t entirely new to the country.

After the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, an emergency system was introduced to states and territories which allowed them alert residents of emergencies. As a result, whenever disasters like bushfires and floods were expected, for instance, states and territories could SMS residents to inform them.

The system remained a disaster alert platform until 2019, when the Missing Persons Registry (MPR) was implemented. The MPR oversees reports of missing persons, as well as unidentified bodies and human remains.

The MPR is unquestionably useful. They use posters, social media, outdoor advertising, partnerships, and events to alert the public of missing persons. However, the MPR falls short of actually investigating missing persons by going into the field. That difficult task is left to the police alone – at least until now, with the NSW Police Force teaming up with telcos and the public.

Final words – What to do if you have information about the whereabouts of a missing person

You can find information about missing persons on the Australian Police Force’s National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC) website. And if you’re searching for those in NSW, you can also use the Missing Persons Enquiry System.

If you have any information about the whereabouts of a missing person, contact Crime Stoppers online or ring their toll free number at 1800 333 000.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.