I’ve been a Search and Rescue volunteer since 2001. I’ve been on hundreds of searches in the wilderness and the mountains of BC. I can say, without question, that the type of incident I dread the most is an urban search for someone with dementia.
Urban searches are the worst. If someone goes missing in the wilderness, they stand out; a lone person or a group in the middle of nowhere. Someone in the middle of the city of half a million people, someone who doesn’t know they are lost, and isn’t calling out for help — that’s an entirely different thing.
You wouldn’t think that you could die in a city park surrounded by people but it happens, and I’ve seen it. More than once. This is what fills me with dread when my pager goes off. We can search for hours and the subject could be on a bus where we would never see them. In once case, the subject got on a train, and left the country. In the case of Shin Noh, we searched for days, and never found him. This despite the fact that there were several sightings on the day he went missing. The people who saw him did not know he was lost, and Shin did not ask for help.
The search for Shin Noh was the final straw for me. By the time the media picked up on the story of a missing elderly man with Dementia in Coquitlam, it was days later. The tips came in, but were too old.
The police already post missing persons reports to their media release pages. An alerting system that gets the word out about missing people who fit the criteria for a Silver Alert can save lives if people act on the information. As individuals, we talked to members of government and to officials about the need for such a system, but were met with resistance. So we decided to act.
We built a system that filters the missing persons reports for people who are particularly particularly vulnerable. We verify the information as accurate and coming from an definitive source. And then we publicise it through social media, email and other channels. Subscribers to the information opt-in, and get a few alerts a year about the most problematic missing persons cases.
We feel confident that this system can help find missing people. We hope that by creating this system we can pressure the government and municipalities , with their greater resources, to put a more effective Silver Alert system in place.