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CALEA Update Magazine | Issue 108

Communications Open Channel

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      Editorial Note: As a CALEA Partner, APCO International pens the Communications Open Channel column, which focuses on topics of interest to our clients, particularly those in the Public Safety Communications Accreditation Program.

Become a 9-1-1 Call Center Partner with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)

Are you familiar with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the ties it has with the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and CALEA? Have you considered becoming a 9-1-1 Call Center Partner with NCMEC? Even if you are already busy focusing on what must be tackled as priority projects, and think you know how to react to reports involving children, this is a worthwhile effort for all communications centers.

In our case, our Director became aware of the opportunity to attend the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Training Seminar in Alexandria, Virginia and made the trip from Kent, Washington to tour the NCMEC Center. This was at no cost to our agency, other than the time for our Director to attend this training. What he learned and saw during the tour convinced him that time is critical when a child is in danger, and there are tremendous resources available to assist local law enforcement in protecting our children. He was also impressed with the knowledge and dedication of all staff at the Center. Upon his return he made a personal commitment for our agency to enter into a NCMEC 9-1-1 Call Center Partnership.

The next step was for me, the Training Manager, to attend the 8-hour Train-the-Trainer Seminar: Call Center Best Practices in Handling Calls of Missing and Exploited Children at the APCO International Conference in Houston in August, 2010. This class was provided at no cost to my agency.

 I have worked as a call receiver, dispatcher, supervisor and training manager for over 24 years, but I still walked away that day with a great deal of new information and a passion to ensure that our agency take every measure possible to protect our children from risk when possible by carrying out our goal of becoming NCMEC Partners.

Among the many things I learned: In child abduction cases when the child is murdered, 47% die within the first hour and 76% in the first three hours. In 33% of missing children cases, there was an “unknowing witness” who was identified by interviews or neighborhood canvassing. A high percentage of runaways or throwaways are endangered by sexual or physical abuse, criminal companions or drug use or are under 13 years old. The psychological impact on children who are victims of a family abduction is similar to that of combat veterans and victims of violent crimes.

We next had to determine how to train our operational staff. The online, five to six-hour training session, Telecommunications Best Practices for Missing and Abducted Children, was free and allowed us to schedule and train all 115 of our staff during any hour or any day of the week. Although it took several months to complete, we were able to accomplish this requirement. At the same time we updated all training materials and obtained the Checklist for Calltakers When Handling Calls Pertaining to Missing and Sexually Exploited Children from NCMEC. We placed the checklists at each console.  We then formally adopted the APCO ANSI Standard for Public-Safety Telecommunicators when Responding to Calls of Missing, Abducted, and Sexually Exploited Children.

All this works hand in hand with our CALEA Public Safety Communications Accreditation, which requires a written directive for handling missing, runaway, abandoned and abducted children calls to include specific notifications, follow-up requirements and AMBER alert and other public notification criteria. Finally, we expanded our quality assurance (QA) program to ensure that each call involving a child in danger is evaluated and that best practices continue to be adhered to daily.

Last spring we had just completed all training and submitted our application to be recognized as a 9-1-1 Call Center Partner when a training team answered a call one evening around 7 p.m. from a mother reporting that her 8-year-old daughter had been missing from a local park for the past 30 minutes. It was unknown if related, but a man had also been recently seen in the area taking pictures of children, and descriptions were available of him and his vehicle. Immediately, the training team believed this was a possible abduction and noted, “Since we both recently went through the missing and exploited children’s course, this hit close to home. We asked good, relevant questions and the caller was able to get answers from children who were last with her daughter”. The training team also advised the supervisor of the incident they had initiated and their belief that it may result in an AMBER Alert.

The supervisor on duty requested the law enforcement agency for this jurisdiction contact her immediately if they determined the need for AMBER Alert activation, and she prepared to initiate the activation on the portal website. The AMBER Alert was activated, and in less than an hour an employee from a local store reported a man matching the suspect’s description had been in the store with a young female. Security cameras helped confirm that the suspect and missing child had been at the store, and identified the vehicle and license from the parking lot, which provided additional information on the suspect.

In less than three hours from the phone call reporting the missing child, the suspect released her and she arrived safely home on foot. The suspect was identified and taken into custody in less than 24 hours.

The supervisor stated that she believed the successful recovery of this child was due in part to the new awareness of the potential risks for the child and the AMBER Alert having been activated quickly. Because the call receiver training team, dispatcher, and supervisor had all received the NCMEC training, they had a heightened awareness of the potential dangers and were able to identify the importance of getting all necessary information and the need to act swiftly.

We will never truly know how different the outcome would have been if we had not been NCMEC 9-1-1 Call Center Partners, but if this one child was successfully recovered due in any part to our efforts, then our work was rewarded many times over.

It is difficult to know or imagine how many children and their families may benefit from a similar, positive effect in the coming months or years, but thanks to the partnerships with NCMEC, APCO and CALEA, we are confident we are prepared to act in the best interests of the children in our community.


Yvonne Carsley
On behalf of the APCO CALEA Committee
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