The Audrain County Everbridge Notification System that was implemented last fall proved its effectiveness last week when local law enforcement used the system in their search for a missing 8-year-old Mexico girl.
Police said the child had been unaccounted for about two hours at her Calhoun Street home last Friday when public safety officials were contacted.
According to Mexico Public Safety Department Chief Susan Rockett, the child's mother and grandmother reported the child missing around 3:34 p.m. Within an hour, officers had located the girl unharmed at a friend's home on Wonneman Street.
"From the time we got the report until she was found, we had seven officers out searching for her, and within 10 minutes of her mother and grandmother walking in the building, we had issued an alert on the Everbridge system." Rockett told The Ledger Tuesday. The alert, the chief noted, went out to about 4,000 residents in about four minutes.
According to Rockett, MPSD received a tip from a watchful neighbor, who was aware of the child's routine, heard the alert and reported seeing her.
"She apparently just wandered off playing, and didn't let her grandmother know where she was going," Rockett said. This case, the chief noted, shows that the notification system does work, and that "Mexicoans should always be mindful when an alert is issued."
Rockett added, "Swift action and a broad network of watchful citizens are what leads to successful resolutions."
Rockett said the 4,000 residents alerted was a much larger group than they intended to reach. Their initial thought was to keep the information within the neighborhoods they were searching. But during their search, they found that only seven people in the neighborhood they were searching had signed up for the alert system.
"This incident alone, shows that we really need people to sign up," Rockett said. "They can do so on the Mexico Public Safety website, the Audrain County website and the 911 website. We can even help them register, if needed."
By registering, Rockett said, "It gets the word out and puts everyone on alert."
Because of an attentive neighbor and the Everbridge system, Rockett said "the child is now at home and safe."
This is the first time the Mexico Public Safety Department has used the notification system to locate an individual. After the child was found, Rockett said the information was posted on the Mexico Public Safety Department Facebook page to let the community know that the child was safe.
"It was amazing how much response we got. It shows that people are listening and paying attention. We just need to get more people registered," Rockett reiterated. For residents that don't have Internet available in their homes, Rocket said they can come to the public safety department and someone will help them get signed up. She noted the Emergency Management Office, located in the Audrain County Courthouse, is also available to help residents register.
When used, "The Everbridge Notification System can target geographical areas, half of the town, the county and anywhere else, if residents are registered," Rockett said.
Audrain County Emergency Management Director Steve Shaw, who introduced the idea of the notification system to the county, said he was "extremely happy" that the child was located and that the city had used the system in its search.
"This incident shows that citizens are listening and will react to what they hear. And that's excellent. You can't ask for more proof than that," Shaw said.
Shaw also said that public safety officials stated that in the case of the missing child, "they feel the system paid for itself," and Shaw agrees.
Audrain County implemented the Everbridge System in 2012 to send emergency alerts via a phone call to everyone registered to receive messages. The service enhances the county's emergency preparedness and response plans, giving them the power to not only notify residents of time-sensitive situations, but also provide them with important information, directions and updates.
Links have been posted on the Audrain County, City of Mexico, Audrain Ambulance District and Emergency 9-1-1 websites for citizens to register for the Everbridge Community Notification System. Complete registration, from start to finish, takes about 10 to 15 minutes, and according to Shaw, "is life-saving."
The cost of the Everbridge Notification System was $34,000 for a three-year contract.
Shaw said his next step is to meet with the stakeholders of the notification system and set some additional protocol on sending out "after-the-fact" information, to keep the public aware of the outcome of situations.