On May 8th, Amanda Heller, a 35-year-old physical therapist and yoga instructor from Maui, Hawaii, went missing during a morning run in the secluded Makawao Forest Reserve. Heller was found injured, yet alive, on May 24 and was airlifted from the reserve. In the 16 days Heller was missing, police and volunteers used various forms of technology to gather more information. These same search technology and techniques are often used in cases of missing persons and children.
Live-feeds of the gravel parking lot near Hunter’s Trail, where Heller’s car was discovered, are being used to gather a real-time view of the 2,093-acre reserve. At the same time, volunteers are given GPS apps to compile a live map of the reserve.
“They come back to base, upload that data, and five minutes later it’s on our live screen,” Chris Berquist, one of the main search coordinators, reported to The Maui News.
Missing Persons Search Techniques in Hawaii
GPS has been a vital tool in gathering data for the ongoing search. Using grip points and pin drops on maps, GPS keeps track of areas covered, as well as those that still need searching.
A call has been put out to local businesses, residents and visitors for video footage that can be mined for information leading to Heller’s whereabouts. Officials have also asked for security footage from local businesses along the route where Heller was last seen to rule out foul play and develop an official timeline.
Search party members are equipped with smartphones, laptops, and tablets to gather information and quickly relay it to law enforcement. “There’s never enough footage,” Berquist told The Maui News.
Authorities have also been using infrared cameras and drones to get a bird’s-eye view of the area. Other search methods have included the use of canine teams and searchers employing ropes to belay to difficult terrain.
Using Tech to Search for Missing Children
According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, approximately 29,758 children under the age of 18 are reported missing or abducted each year. The use of technology speeds up these search processes, which is critical if law enforcement hopes to find the missing or abducted child.
Bringing the public in on these searches is the America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, also known as the AMBER Alert Program. This voluntary partnership is a combination of law enforcement and transportation agencies, broadcasters, and the wireless industry.
Emergency bulletins deliver real-time information through various avenues, from alerts on cell phones, freeway signs and bus scrolls to broadcast interruptions on radio and television and Internet search engines. AMBER Alerts are credited with the recovery of 957 children since its introduction in 1997.
Also aiding in searches is the use of facial recognition software, though some cities like San Francisco worry it invades people’s privacy. Apps are another good resource, like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) Safety Central App. Through the app, users create a digital Child ID that contains digital fingerprints and current photos.
The FBI instituted its Child ID App in 2006 in coordination with the National Child Identification Program. This app offers the same features as NCMEC’s app, as well as the ability to instantly email authorities. It provides specific guidance as to steps to take during the first crucial hours after a child goes missing.
Armed with knowledge and technology, the chances of bringing missing persons and children home safely will be on the rise.