Best Practices in Emergency Notification: Missing Person Alerts

Every second counts when a vulnerable person is missing and any information that can help the investigation is potentially invaluable. So getting the word out about a missing person can be vitally important.

Using data from 2016, there were over 88,000 missing person cases in the United States, with almost 40% of those being children under the age of 18.

Fortunately, modern Emergency Notification Systems (ENS) allow law enforcement agencies to use multiple communication methods – including social media – to greatly increase the chances of locating a missing person. There are many examples of residents’ quick response to alert messages helping find a missing person within a few hours.

To get the maximum benefit from an emergency alert system, consider these recommendations when sending out the missing person alert:

  1. Get as many citizens enrolled in the ENS as possible. While this counts mostly BEFORE you send out a message, you can also use the current emergency to give citizens a reason to sign up. Let your community know there’s an Emergency Notification System in place and that it will be used for emergency situations. Your current emergency is a good example of how the ENS system will be used. Add a message telling folks to sign up as part of your messaging about the emergency.
  2. Your message should be brief but impactful. Provide accurate physical characteristics and some valuable details that can help locate a missing person (for example, the last place a missing person was seen). Also, add a link for more information and make sure to include a contact number where citizens can call in case they have information to report. A good Emergency Notification System such as Hyper-Reach also allows you to attach the picture of a missing person to help to find them even faster.
  3. Send a missing person alert message via multiple channels including social media and WEA, when appropriate. This will help to fill in the gaps in contact lists since landlines are only present in 40%-50% of households. You can use Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA, part of IPAWS) when there is significant risk to life.  (Note that Amber Alerts will typically be sent by WEA). Also, get help from a local media to spread the word.
  4. Avoid sending out a missing person alert during late night hours. Experience shows that citizens will be irritated if you wake them up with a missing person alert in the middle of the night. And the odds of getting help from the general public at 3 AM are pretty slim. If you have to send an alert in the middle of the night, make the distribution of that alert as small as possible (Hyper-Reach allows you to limit your distribution to areas as small as individual street segments or even a set of specific addresses). Then send out a broader alert to arrive first thing in the morning.  Modern systems – including Hyper-Reach – have the ability to schedule a message to be sent on a specific date and time.

Emergency notification systems have proven to be a powerful tool for locating missing persons. Thanks to the different communication methods that can be accessed at one time, ENS use significantly increases the chances of finding a missing person. We hope that our recommendations will help you to use your emergency notification system more fully and effectively. And if you do not yet have such a system, we would be glad to show you the benefits of adding ENS to your emergency response toolkit.

Learn more about our mass notification solutions for local government.

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