New technologies being added to police tool box for missing, lost individuals

New technology is helping Sudbury Police find individuals who may be lost. Sudbury Police are testing out several smartphone apps and other resources to help officers locate a missing or lost individual.

Smartphone apps like a compass can be used to provide coordinates to pinpoint location

Inspector John Valtonen is with Greater Sudbury Police Services. He says they're piloting a couple of new projects to help 911 call takers and police officers locate individuals who are lost and unsure of their location. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

New technology is helping police find individuals who may be lost.

Greater Sudbury police are testing out several smartphone apps and other resources to help officers locate a missing or lost individual.

Inspector John Valtonen says several years ago they developed the email address: lost@gsps.ca after several people went missing around the same time.

"The most important thing when you are looking for a missing person particularly in the first hour or few hours is an accurate description of an individual," he said.

With the email address a parent or loved one can quickly email a picture from their cell phone, of their missing child, teen or elderly parent to police.

"That would go out to every communicator on the distribution list, and then once they have that picture, that picture can then be distributed to the officers in the cruisers."

Valtonen adds that Sudbury Police are also testing out two options, for when a 911 caller is lost in the woods, for example, but still has access to a smartphone.

He says the 911 communicator will still ask them questions about where they started off, how far they may have walked, or their surroundings to narrow down an area. But the call taker can now try a couple of other methods to help pinpoint the location.

However cell phones need to have location services turned on in order for these attempts to be successful.

The first project GSPS is trying out is when the 911 caller takes a random picture from their location, and then emails that photo to the lost@gsps.ca email address. 

That picture is geotagged with the latitude and longitude coordinates of the person's location, as long as the location services is turned on.

Inspector John Valtonen says Greater Sudbury Police Service is testing out several new technologies that will allow a 911 communicator to use a person's cell phone coordinates to locate them if they're lost in the woods, for example. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Valtonen says Sudbury Police has just started looking at the compass app on cell phones as a way to locate a lost individual.

"Most cell phones do have that ability to pull up a compass. The compass will show the latitude and longitude — where you are."

Valtonen explains that the caller takes a screenshot of the compass coordinates, and again emails that to lost@gsps.ca.

Pilot project to roll out to public in 2019

"We're trying to see if that's accurate, before we start putting that out to everybody we just want to do some reliability tests," he said.

Valtonen expects the compass option won't roll out to the public until early in 2019.

"Probably nothing is going to be formalized until the new year, just so that we have confidence in the system and the process."

"It's just early days and we're still working on different options and likely by the new year there will be other apps and other options for us to look at and to put into our tool box."

Valtonen sits on the Joint Emergency Services Operation Advisory Group (JESOAG) as the inspector for 911 services. The committee was formed as the result of a review into the response to the 2013 boat collision on Lake Wanapitei where three people died.

The group had come up with many recommendations that were similar to the recommendations that recently came from a coroner's inquest jury.

According to Valtonen, JESOAG will be looking over the recommendations from the inquest and will use that as a road map for moving forward.

"Looking at what initiatives we can do relatively quickly, and what are the more medium or long term initiatives that obviously need to be looked at through the lens of resource management, as well as the other government agencies that are involved," he said.

Valtonen reiterates that despite the new technology options police are trying out, calling 911 in an emergency is still the best option.

"The 911 service is our integral lifeline to the public and we want to make sure that people know that when they pick up 911 that the help is going to get to them. That is our priority."

With files from Angela Gemmill