In an era where the well-being of vulnerable individuals is a priority, Charlie Hedges, AMBER Alert’s Board Member has emerged as a game-changer with his work relating to online protocols designed to assist those at risk of going missing.

As part of their Missing Persons strategies, UK Police Forces are encouraging carers of vulnerable people who are a risk of going missing to compile useful information about them, and our Board Member helped recording this data in a digital form in conjunction with Safe and Found Online, saving vital time in putting together a search and rescue plan in a missing persons event.

These forms are called ‘Protocols’. They constitute a revolutionary project, specifically tailored for individuals affected by dementia, children, and veterans, to bolster swift responses and improve consistency in missing person cases.

Developing Protocols for the Vulnerable
Hedges’ initiative focuses on creating precise online protocols via the ‘Safe and Found Online’ (SAFO) platform which are designed to protect specific groups prone to disappearing, addressing their distinct vulnerabilities. It is also going further than existing protocols in the UK by developing a preventive role by providing links to agencies who support vulnerable people.

  •  Notably, the Herbert Protocol, a pilot national strategy embraced by all UK police forces, aims to safeguard individuals with dementia by providing police with immediate access to essential information, such as medical details and common routes, to expedite their search.
  • The Forcer Protocol is a new scheme being trialed in conjunction with Greater Manchester Police aimed at reducing the risk of harm to service veterans, reservists and currently serving members of the armed forces who go missing.
  • Additionally, Hedges contributes to the Philomena Protocol, a task to be integrated in the future by SAFO, which is aimed at vulnerable children at risk of going missing, furthering the initiative’s reach. Differently than the other protocols, this strategy will be developed together with the responsible child welfare services.

Security and Data Protection
Importantly, SAFO stores the information securely, enabling individuals to update their information as it changes and rendering it instantly available to single police officers via a two-factor authentication in the event of the person going missing. Focus is placed on robust security measures and limited access rights.

Efficient Response in Critical Situations 
The efficiency of police response in missing person cases can be drastically improved with the adoption of these protocols. By having immediate access to detailed, relevant information, law enforcement agencies can formulate quicker and more effective search strategies.  The need to digitalize the protocols was clear to Hedges, considering “the protocols were all recorded on paper and were not effective at all, being out of date and with no consistent method for storing and retrieving information”. This expediency is critical, especially in the first few hours of a person going missing, which are often the most crucial. Moreover, standardizing the processes allows for consistency in police response.

International Interest and Involvement of Academia
The potential of these online protocols has not gone unnoticed. Hedges mentioned that pilot programs are underway, with significant interest shown by authorities in the UK and the emergency support services in Sweden. “There are obvious advantages in sharing these practices with other countries” underlines Hedges, hoping they will serve as a model for other countries to follow, as well as for future involvement of academia to substantiate the protocols with research.

Individualized Risk Assessments Shrinking the Gap: A Step Towards a Safer Future by Recognizing that Some are More at Risk of going Missing than Others
Considering the main risk assessments are excessively broad, mainly focusing on age or illnesses to define vulnerability in a person, there is a strong recognition of the need to be able to differentiate between different types of missing persons. Gathering information about those specific vulnerabilities was considered of grave importance and having that information immediately available when someone is reported missing was seen as crucial.

The assessment of how vulnerable the individual is and how serious the circumstances surrounding the disappearance is relevant when it comes assessing how quickly police needs to respond to that particular missing person case, thereby allowing law enforcement to look at it against other missing persons cases and also against the other demands of policing at that particular time.

Thus, individualized protocols supplement and complement Risk Triage for specific vulnerable groups, enhancing police’s knowledge and consequently improving the response.

Charlie Hedges’ groundbreaking work marks a significant step forward in safeguarding at-risk individuals. By harnessing the power of technology and prioritizing security and efficiency, this initiative paves the way for a future where the response to missing person cases is individualized, swifter, more efficient, and ultimately more effective. As this project gains traction across Europe, it holds the promise of becoming a vital tool in the protection of the most vulnerable individuals in our societies, aiding in shrinking the gap in missing persons cases.