"My daughter Lindsey vanished over 20 years ago," said Judy Peterson. "We've been searching for her ever since."
"I was desperate to find her," Judy said. "I printed my own posters and went all over town with my roll of Scotch tape, taping up to all the stores and all the locations that I could, trying to get the word out that she was missing, and for anybody to help me and give me any information that they could."
22 years later, Judy still hasn't found her daughter.
Through the continued search for her daughter, Judy became an advocate for the Missing Children Society of Canada (MCSC) and by sharing her family's story, she has become a powerful voice for missing children and their families nationwide.
Milk Carton 2.0™
In the late 1970's, organizations featured pictures of missing children on milk cartons. Now, milk cartons no longer feature missing children, but MCSC has founded what they call "Milk Carton 2.0™" – a milk carton for the digital age.
In Canada, 41,000 children are reported missing every year. MCSC uses a mix of mobile and social technology to create its emergency response Search Program, which sends time-sensitive alerts and information to Canadians to help recover missing children.
The Search Program is made up of multiple components, including the Most Valuable Network™ (MVN) platform, which automatically sends out alerts across Facebook and Twitter and allows users to 'donate' their social feeds so that all their friends will be engaged as well, and the CodeSearch™ Rapid Response app, which is content-rich and engages partner corporations and their employees through geo-targeted push notifications that instantly alert users in the area where there is an urgent missing child case.
A need for speed
When it was launched in 2012, MCSC's innovative use of technology and social media quickly led to success. The Search Program became recognized internationally, the first MVN platform was able to connect information to over a million people, and within a year of operation, the program supported the closure of dozens of cases.
However, as the number of people donating their social feeds grew, their platform struggled to keep up with the requirements of messaging people at a mass scale on an on-demand basis. The system was becoming increasingly slow and the technology had already become outdated. MCSC realized that their system was being held together by band-aids and that it needed a full overhaul.
At the time, the alerts were taking up to an hour to be sent out. Since every second counts when a child has been abducted, the staff at MCSC knew they needed to find a way to send the alerts out faster.
A move to the cloud
In 2014, MCSC connected with Microsoft to explore the options. Microsoft helped to rebuild and improve the MVN application. A new widget to allow users to donate their Facebook and Twitter feeds was added, as well as a back-end portal allowing MCSC to push geo-targeted messaging in the event of a missing child's case.
The application was moved to be completely hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, which allowed for instantaneous scale and a secure environment to deliver these messages to the public.
Bringing more children home
Thanks to making the transition to Microsoft Azure, and to the MVN app update, MCSC doesn't have to wait an hour for their alerts to go out anymore. They're sent and received within a few seconds. The size of their audience has grown too.
"Our Microsoft partnership allowed us to take our technology platforms and connect a country," said MCSC's CEO Amanda Pick. "With our first MVN platform, we were able to connect information to over a million people. Now, with our new Most Valuable Network and Azure, we were able to connect information to over 5 million people.
"The Azure platform is so critical for us because the Most Valuable Network continues to grow organically every time we use it," Pick said. "Being on Azure ensures that no matter how many individuals join our network – even the whole country – the system will be supported."
For police officers like Inspector Cliff O'Brien, that speed and reach makes all the difference.
"When we are able to get information from a command center like this and we're able to put it right into [peoples'] hands where they can look at a photograph, that is a game changer for us," O'Brien said. "There's nobody else in North America doing that."
O'Brien also sees tangible evidence that the program is working.
"We have had subjects that have been arrested...and those subjects themselves have talked about how everywhere they went that their face or the child's face was in the media and that prompted them to turn themselves in."
MCSC is harnessing the power of technology to address and reduce the two key critical components to finding missing children - time and anonymity.
"We want every Canadian to have the ability to be a part of the Most Valuable Network, thereby ensuring that we get the information to the right person in the right place to find a missing child," Pick said. "I'm so proud that we have such amazing partners, like Microsoft, who are helping us work towards a future where children do not go missing."
Judy Peterson agrees.
"It's so wonderful to see all the technology that the Missing Children Society of Canada has developed to help parents that are in the same situation as I was," Judy says. "I can't help but think that if these technologies had existed when Lindsey vanished, that we would have answers."
Judy has a message for anyone who wants to help.
"Get involved. You can make a difference. Donate your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Together we can all make a difference and bring more children home."