It was just 10 minutes. But it was the longest 10 minutes of my life.
In June of 2007 on an extended family vacation to the Disney parks in California, we were watching the “High School Musical” parade and performance on the main concourse at the California Adventure theme park. My sister, her son and my kids had all jostled up to the front of the crowd to get a better view. I hung back with my brother-in-law and my mother, who has Alzheimer’s and tends to wander off.
When the performance finished, my sister and the kids joined us. Instantly I noticed my 7-year-old son was not with the rest of the kids. Panic followed as we looked in every direction. After a short time of running in a circle to try to spot him, I began to think the worst — my son had been snatched by a predator.
I ran as fast as I could to a spot that put me in view of the main park exit. Of course, there was another exit by the Grand Californian Hotel. I couldn’t be in both places. I sent my brother-in-law, a captain of the police force in his hometown, to report to park security that my son was missing. My sister had to watch my mother and the other four kids. It was just me trying to spot my child among thousands of tourists. With each passing second I felt time was running out to save my son.
Just then a uniformed security officer came walking toward me with my son. My son was crying. He had lingered in a toy store where we all had been when the High School Musical parade lured us outside. He was engrossed in his toy heaven when he suddenly looked around and noticed everyone was gone. He was smart enough to go to a store clerk and tell them that he had lost his family and they called park security.
While this was a frightening and embarrassing experience, it turned out well. But it could have gone a lot better.
If AlertID.com had been around five years ago it would have gone differently. I would have downloaded the mobile app. I would have taken a photo of each child the day we walked into the amusement park so that they could quickly be identified by not only appearance but the clothes they were wearing that day.
When he first was missing, I could have sent this information immediately to local police through the AlertID.com mobile app, which, in turn, could have provided it to Disney security. There could have been hundreds of eyes looking immediately for my son at all the park exits and throughout the park. Had a child predator been involved, the odds would have increased dramatically that my son would have been spotted and saved.
AlertID.com is a free online and mobile service for its members and public safety officials. The company has partnered with police and other agencies wherever they have added the service to provide neighborhood crime data and provide easy flow of information from members to police when there is suspicious activity in a neighborhood.
Beginning this week AlertID.com expanded to include Arizona in its database. Seven other states have the service. Two more states come online by the end of June and the founders hope the rest are on board by the end of this year.
The first step when the service is expanded into a state is providing universal access to and alerts from state sex offender database information. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports there are more than 745,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S. Their location is required to be available to the public but the access varies greatly by state. This service makes it easily accessible and then provides push notifications of an offender’s movement in and out of a AlertID.com member’s neighborhood.
Founders Robert and Keli Wilson launched AlertID.com in Nevada in 2010. They have three children and a few years ago had a similar experience at an amusement park. They are software people who decided to do something about that feeling of helplessness when a child goes missing.
In a phone interview this week, Keli Wilson said their mission is to make the country’s public safety information universally accessible, helping people protect their families and communities. Through technology, she says, they have created two-way communications between citizens and federal, state and local authorities to provide immediate information on crime, terrorism and natural disaster.
The service is free. Just go to the website and subscribe. You can download the mobile app for free on a smart phone. It lets you track crime and get push alerts about activity in your neighborhood, and the areas around where you work and your kids go to school.
Financial support for the service is through advertising. Wilson said only “family-friendly companies” are allowed to advertise on the site.
Terry Horne is publisher and editor of the East Valley Tribune and general manager of 1013 Communications Arizona, which also includes the Daily News-Sun in Sun City, the Ahwatukee Foothills News, Arizona Interactive Media, The Explorer in Tucson, Glendale-Peoria Today and Surprise Today.