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Belmont (MA) PD Utilize Notification Technology to Locate Missing Persons

Date: 2011-08-09
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An Exclusive Case Study provided by Blackboard Connect

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2010 alone, 30,684 people with a proven physical or mental disability were reported missing. Every day, law enforcement officials across the nation work to locate missing persons, and the more resources available, the better.

Police departments, local government and schools across the nation have adopted mass notification technology, helping them to enlist the eyes and ears of an entire community. By sending an alert, by phone call, text, email, social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, and TTY/TDD devices for people who are hearing impaired, officials can instantly expand the search, helping to spot a missing person quickly and get them to safety.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease will wander, and many become unable to remember their name or address. Alzheimer patients may become disoriented and lost even in their own neighborhood. In December 2009, when an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disappeared from his family’s home in Belmont (MA) the local police department knew they had to act quickly, to find the man and get him out of the cold winter weather.

Belmont dispatch received the missing persons call first. In addition to notifying officers, dispatch officials also sent a notification messaging to Belmont residents, asking for their help in locating the elderly gentlemen. Within minutes of message delivery, the station began receiving calls reporting sightings. In total, the station received between 25 and 30 calls, six of which were solid leads, and within one hour, the man was found safe and unharmed.

“He was found on the other side of town, which was surprising to us,” said Daniel MacAuley, Belmont’s 9-1-1 manager (pictured, right). “The Blackboard Connect message was absolutely instrumental in helping us find him. The family was thrilled. They thought it was great how it worked to bring the community together in the search and to quickly generate so many calls and sightings. It was amazing; it really was.”

Located seven miles from downtown Boston, the town of Belmont has a population of 27,000. Known locally as the “Town of Homes,” the community is primarily residential and offers a small-town environment and convenient to metropolitan services. Residents are generally upper middle class, highly educated and busy with work, commuting and social activities. For the Belmont Police Department, keeping residents informed of neighborhood happenings — weather issues, road closures, missing persons — was often challenging. Traditional methods of notification, including community television and officers going door-to-door, were consuming, expensive and often insufficient. When several neighboring communities implemented notification services to address both emergency and outreach communication, the Belmont Police Department decided to follow suit.

“We saw that surrounding communities were having tremendous success with mass notification technology and we knew it could make a big impact here too,” said MacAuley. “Our residents are busy, but they want to stay informed. We thought Blackboard Connect would be a great way to let them know what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”

The department once again utilized its mass notification service earlier this year when a family reported their autistic 15-year-old son missing at approximately 8:15 a.m. on a January morning. The parents alerted the police that they had last seen their son at 2:30 a.m. that day. With temperatures at chilling 4 degrees that night, he wasn’t dressed to be out in the cold for long.

“Our first concern was locating thy boy fast, knowing that he was not able to look after himself, and that the weather would be a factor in the boy’s health,” MacAuley said.

The department once again sent the entire town an emergency notification via Blackboard Connect, including the boy’s description, disability and last known location.

Within minutes of the message being sent, the department received two calls from residents on their way to work in a neighboring community of Watertown, claiming to have seen the boy. Within 45 minutes of the parents reporting their son missing, law enforcement officials had located the boy in a large discount retail store with a full shopping cart of goods, and 23 cents in his pocket. The department sent the town a message, letting them know that the boy had been found and that he was safe, which led to positive feedback from residents about the department’s notification system.

The department continues to use the Blackboard Connect service two to three times a month for both emergency and community notifications, including weather warnings, water main breaks, and upcoming events.

 “The town’s 150th anniversary was last year and we put out a message to the community to let them know about an upcoming fireworks display. We had a huge turnout,” MacAuley noted. “We also used it to communicate with residents about the 2010 census activities.”

Recently, the department used the service to ensure sufficient turnout for an H1N1 vaccination clinic. When not enough students between the ages of eight and 10 showed up for H1N1 vaccinations, MacAuley used the Blackboard Connect platform to rally the community.

“Our health director called me because the vaccine had to be used that day, and there weren’t enough people to give it to. I put out a quick message to the community announcing that the age range had been expanded to include ages 10 to 12,” said MacAuley. “Within 15 minutes, people showed up at the clinic, and within an hour, there were 250 people getting vaccinated making it a very successful event.”

In addition to protecting the health of the community, the town of Belmont was able to fully utilize time-sensitive vaccine, which would have otherwise been a financial waste for the health department.

Feedback from the community regarding both emergency and proactive outreach has been positive since the system’s implementation.

“I’ve lived in this town my whole life and know a whole bunch of people, and everywhere I go I get people saying ‘I got a call from you yesterday,’ ” said MacAuley. “It’s incredible to be able to connect with everyone on a personal level and the Blackboard Connect service makes it so simple.  It walks you through every step, and it’s very easy to use.”

The department also utilizes social media to communicate with the town residents, posting information regarding parking restrictions, weather, department programs and suspects at large to its Twitter channel.

“I’m proud to say that we use reliable technology to communicate with residents, helping to ensure that we keep our residents informed, prepared, informed and connected,” said MacAuley.

For more information on Blackboard Connect, see here.



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