A missing persons’ search and rescue centre to be established in Russia
The idea for setting up a search and rescue centre was discussed at a meeting involving the Agency of Strategic Initiatives and TASS in the run-up to International Missing Children’s Day (25 May).
Establishing such a centre is vital in creating an official system that promotes cooperation between volunteers and State institutions involved in search and rescue operations, said Grigory Sergeev, Chair of the Volunteer Search and Rescue Team “Lisa Alert”.
“The current system for organising missing person searches isn’t always effective both in terms of response times and applied resources. It’s not that such resources are scarce – in a lot of cases they are sufficient. It’s more a question of how they’re deployed. The centre could coordinate the search and rescue effort and become an independent entity should we decide to organise rescue teams on this basis. Then it will be in a good position to respond. At the moment, the situation leaves much to be desired”, said Sergeev.
Emergency response centre
Irina Vorobyeva, Coordinator of “Lisa Alert”, believes that unidentified hospital patients can be the starting point for the work of the future missing person’s search and rescue centre. Hospital databases hold descriptions and photographs of unknown patients which enables their relatives to find them.
According to “Lisa Alert”, the centre will include a section whose aims are to stop people from going missing, to be involved in their rehabilitation, and developing different search and rescue methods. It would also have an operational response unit, comprising a hotline and regional search and rescue teams. The hotline would also help in compiling missing person statistics. Experts say that of the 70,000 to 100,000 people who go missing in Russia every year, some 20,000 to 25,000 are never found. There are no precise data on their age or on the circumstances surrounding their disappearance.
“We don’t know how many people disappear in their home environment; how many go missing in cities and how many of them are old people suffering, for example, from Alzheimer’s disease; how many children have got lost and how many have run away. The better we can understand the particular characteristics of each search, the more effectively we’ll be able to work. Armed with this information, State institutions will be able to identify and resolve problems that occur in each region”, said a representative from “Lisa Alert”.
According to experts, the current response system is rather chaotic with a number of functions either duplicated or not performed at all. Missing people searches can start much too late, with Government services in many regions not being able to operate at night, say “Lisa Alert”.
In America, searches for lost children involve all relevant Ministries and departments, including launching a large-scale awareness campaign. Information is then quickly disseminated through various mass media outlets, e.g. on banners along roadsides or directly to mobile phones.
Searching for missing people using a ‘phone
Following the introduction of the 112 emergency phone line, rescue services began receiving information on missing people from a central dispatcher. However, their work isn’t properly coordinated. For example, response services start calling a person who has dialled 112. The caller’s mobile phone’s battery has run out so the search and rescue units immediately miss the chance to contact the missing person and ascertain his or her whereabouts.
Mobile phone operators can help find a person even if their phone is turned off, said a representative from the “Beeline” mobile communications company. However, current legislation makes this difficult as permission from the police is required in order to trace the phone’s owner, a process that can take anywhere between several hours and a number of days. Phone operators believe that changes are needed either to the law or in the instructions given to police officers in order to secure the necessary authorisation more quickly.
“If a child’s disappearance was recognised as an emergency, we could notify people living in an area where a child has gone missing and so be of great help in getting the message out to the local community. At the moment, we are not allowed to make that judgement call”, said Yevgeny Chistova, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Projects at “Vimpelcom”.
Search and rescue teams expect the centre to operate in all federal districts, working closely with local Government agencies. Its Board of Trustees will include representatives from the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Emergency Situations, Defence, Transport, Education, together with the Russian Federation’s Investigative Committee.