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The search for missing persons is being digitized: WiFi signals to obtain the exact location

The "Acompáñame" system, integrated into the Alertcops mobile application of the Ministry of the Interior, uses WiFi signals to obtain the coordinates of missing persons who may be at risk.

El Heraldo · 26/10/2023

One hundred personnel are searching for a missing elderly person in Madrid's Casa de Campo, yet technology is the first to locate him. The "Acompáñame" system, integrated into the mobile application of the Ministry of the Interior, Alertcops, uses WiFi signals to obtain the coordinates of missing individuals who may be at risk.

This pioneering system in the world, tested by the Interior Ministry on Thursday in a missing person search simulation, aims to make interventions faster and more effective, especially in complex terrain.

"It's about digitizing the more traditional search, relying on the visual and olfactory senses of search and rescue teams and canine guides. Providing rescue teams with coordinates with minimal margin of error saves time and allows for a quicker response, as time is crucial in these services," explained Francisco Alonso, the head of Alertcops, in statements to EFE.

The simulation's scenario is clear: a man over 70 years old with cognitive impairments becomes disoriented during one of his regular walks in Casa de Campo, and when he doesn't return home, his daughter files a missing person report.

Immediately, under the premise that "the first hours are the only hours that matter," authorities activate the search operation.

Officers from the Guardia Civil, National Police, and Madrid Municipal Police conduct searches on foot, horseback, in vehicles, with drones, and canine teams. After approximately an hour of searching, an alert appears on the computers at the advanced control center.

One of the receiving devices carried by the agents, dogs, or drones picks up the WiFi signal emitted by the missing person's phone, enabling them to locate his coordinates with a margin of error of about three meters.

Within minutes, the helicopter from the Mountain Rescue and Intervention Group (GREIM) in Navacerrada has successfully evacuated the supposed elderly man, who was actually one of his companions, to the location where a SAMUR-Protección Civil ambulance is waiting to provide assistance.

The "Acompáñame" system is particularly useful for search and rescue operations in mountainous areas, which often cover vast expanses with difficult-to-access locations.

"The terrain is our biggest limitation, and it affects the time it takes to conduct a search. If we can search in a smaller area, it's better, especially when it comes to reaching the missing person and providing assistance as quickly as possible," noted Juan Manuel Airas, a member of GREIM who participated in the simulation, recalling search operations that lasted for weeks, which this tool might have been able to expedite.

Alonso, the head of Alertcops, has regarded the testing of "Acompáñame" positively, despite some coverage issues. He hopes it will be fully implemented and available to the general public before the end of the year.

Under International Scrutiny

The simulation is part of a seminar on best practices in the search for missing persons organized by the National Center for Missing Persons (CNDES) in light of Spain's presidency of the European Union Council.

Approximately 70 specialists from law enforcement agencies in the United States, Chile, Peru, Italy, France, and the Netherlands participated in the event.

Pilar Muniesa, the lieutenant colonel of the Guardia Civil and the director of CDNES, emphasized that the simulation is a "completely unreal" exercise due to the location of the disappearance and the search conditions. Its purpose is to showcase to international counterparts "the capabilities and coordination of Spanish law enforcement agencies" in such situations.

Since its establishment in 2010, Spain has received 270,093 reports of missing persons, with a 94.7% resolution rate. In the past year alone, there were 26,003 cases.

Muniesa stated that the CNDES is focused on reducing the number of disappearances among the most vulnerable groups: minors aged 13 to 17 and elderly individuals with degenerative or mental health conditions.

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