HOW GIS LOCATION SHARING APP HELPED FIND A MISSING CHILD
How GIS Location Sharing App Helped Find A Missing Child
March 2020, 4-year-old Evelyn “Vardie” Sides vanished in the County area of the rural Alabama woods.
Authorities said she had been under the supervision of her septuagenarian caretaker, and walking her dog when she and the dog “just disappeared.” The caretaker called 911 and rescue teams swung into action.
Within hours, her parents and the community frantic with worry had organized a search that increased to include 400 volunteers, two helicopters, and more local authority search teams.
The volunteers trooped en masse into the woods, searching, calling out her name and that of her dog. Terrified with what they might find, scared that they may be losing time as night fell without a trace of the girl or her dog.
Hours later, there was still no sign of the little girl.
Where was four-year-old Vardie?
Prayers were said, routes were checked, paths were crossed and re-crossed but still, no one could find the beautiful little redhead angel.
Until Ken Busby was called to the scene some hours into the search.
As the county’s GIS coordinator, he had already printed out an aerial map of the surrounding area. But there was a better way to help the search effort.
He got his laptop and used live GIS to help with tracking everything in real-time.
Ken Busby contacted Esri’s Disaster Response Program (DRP) team for assistance. He requested location-sharing ArcGIS software to help him and other members of the response team coordinate their search and rescue efforts remotely and in real-time.
By the next morning, the team had access to an ArcGIS mobile app with location-sharing capabilities. It is now part of ArcGIS Field Maps.
After briefing everyone, all members of the search parties were able to download the location-sharing app to their mobile devices.
Each person that went out got a login for the app. Members of each search party showed on the map in the same color. That way, they could keep track of all the groupings
At the incident command post, the team set up monitors to display maps with real-time updates on the location of each search party. Ken Busby kept constant radio contact with the searchers to keep them on the right track.
Because of Lee County’s rural setting and wooded terrain, location sharing was vital. Using the GIS location tracking map, the command post could see in real-time where the search groups were and keep them heading in the right direction at all times.
With this technology, they were able to determine what areas the search team had covered so they didn’t end up going in circles.
They kept at it until they found footsteps in the woods on the second day.
They took pictures of the footsteps and sent them to Ken Busby who uploaded the geotagged pictures to ArcGIS Pro. From there, the response team was able to map the girl’s direction of travel based on the photo locations and ascertain where she had likely gone.
Both GIS mapping and location sharing capabilities allowed the search and rescue team to home in on a specific area of interest.
This proved to be a turning point for the search effort.
By narrowing the search area, the team was able to locate the girl and her dog on the third day.
Thankfully, they were unharmed. Little Vardie was reunited with her family and taken to the hospital for checks.
Although previously unfamiliar with the location sharing app, its ease of use and the quick response from Esri’s DRP team enabled the search and rescue team to speedily implement this new capability into its emergency operation.
The story above is just one example of the capabilities of GIS when put into total use. It can help security agencies locate people and objects in real-time. Help solve complex cases or just like in the case above, reunite families.