Scroll to bottom for 1-minute broadcast & 5-minute podcast interview with NCMEC’s Callahan Walsh
The odds of a child being kidnapped, especially by a stranger, are relatively low. But it’s still every parent’s nightmare. And, even if your child isn’t kidnapped, there is always the possibility that they will go missing – perhaps even for just a few minutes.
I know that sinking feeling from experience. Fortunately, my daughter was just fine, but one night – when she was 16 – she wasn’t where we expected and unreachable for several hours back before she had a cell phone. My wife and I were terrified, especially after a police officer asked if we had “dental records.”
After all that, it turned out she was on a special commuter train that wasn’t on the schedule and we had no idea where she was.
So, even though you don’t expect anything bad to happen, it’s a great idea to be prepared, which is why I’m excited that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has just released Safety Central, an iPhone and Android app that stores a photo and information about your kids as well as safety tips that are updated at special times, for example at Halloween or when kids are going back to school. There are also pictures of missing kids from your area and a way to report sightings of missing kids.
I’ve been on the board of NCMEC for many years and got involved with the organization shortly after the 1993 kidnapping of Polly Klaas.
My own daughter was about her age and I was horrified when I heard she was missing from her home in Petaluma. To quote from My October 10, 1993 Mercury News column, “I thought about driving to Petaluma to join the hundreds of volunteers who are helping distribute posters with pictures of Polly and her suspected abductor. But it’s a long drive from Silicon Valley, so instead of getting in my car, I got on the phone and arranged for folks at the Polly Klaas hot line to send me, via modem, a scanned photo of Polly and sketches of the suspect.”
With the help of Sean Ackley, at the time a Hayward-based computer bulletin board system operator, “we created an electronic version of the poster that is now available via on-line bulletin boards throughout the Bay Area and, internationally, via the Internet and commercial on-line services.”
Sadly, we later found out that Polly was murdered but something good came out of the tragedy. After Time magazine wrote a story about what we did, I was inundated with requests from families of other missing children and, knowing that I was way over my head, I contacted Ernie Allen, then the national center’s CEO, and together we worked with those early online services and Internet providers to create a mechanism for finding kids online. That lead to the highly successful MissingKids.org website and now – without any help from me – NCMEC has taken a giant step forward with the Safety Central App for iOS and Android.
Safety Central App protects family privacy
The heart of the app is an area where you store information about your children including name, height, weight, blood type, hair and eye color and other identifying information. You can also use your phone to take pictures of your children and photograph each of their fingertips to record fingerprints.
The app also has safety tips from the center. When I checked there was good advice about “The ABCs of Digital Citizenship” and “Talking to Teens About Sexting” along with links to NCMEC’s extensive library of safety information.
Identify missing kids from anywhere
The database of missing children, complete with pictures, descriptions and other details, could also be a life saver because it allows you to look for a child from wherever you are. Many children are found because someone recognized them in public and, now, if you see a child who you have reason to believe may be missing, you can look for them right away, without having to get to a computer. The app also has links to connect to the national center on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and, of course, a place to donate to the nonprofit, which relies on personal contributions along with corporate sponsorships and federal contracts to do its work.
Even if you don’t have children, it’s worth downloading this app so you can help spot missing kids and learn about the organization’s mission and work.
I remain sad that we were not able to save Polly, but I’m grateful that the overwhelming majority of reported missing children are recovered thanks to the work of NCMEC, law enforcement and citizens like you who file reports by going to MissingKids.org, dialing 800 THE LOST and, now, use the Safety Central app.
Radio segment and podcast
Listen to Larry Magid’s 1-minute CBS News Tech Talk segment about the new Safety Central app (scroll down for full interview with NCMEC’s Callahan Walsh)
Larry’s full five minute interview with NCMEC’s Callahan Walsh