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Amanda Pick: A milk carton campaign for the digital age

Amanda Pick of Missing Children Society.Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail

laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

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Law enforcement calls it the Search program, and everyone else calls it Milk Carton 2.0, says Amanda Pick, adding a hint of lightness to a difficult topic.

As executive director of the Missing Children Society of Canada, Ms. Pick is pushing notifications of lost children beyond bygone milk-carton notices and into a network of instantaneous, targeted alerts and social media.

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"Through the process of building this, not only are we leading our country in this work, but I've presented down in Washington and I've been receiving calls from around the world, because nobody else has quite put this model and this type of program together," Ms. Pick said.

Basically, it's the first time all the pieces – from technology to partnerships with corporate Canada and law enforcement – were able to fall into place.

When a child goes missing, police and media get involved through regular emergency channels. But now, instant notifications can also be spread through a simple app as widely and as strategically as necessary to private companies, such as emergency crews in the oil sectors, and other corporations joining in helping to search for a child.

Notifications can also immediately be sent onto ordinary Canadians' social-media sites on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Foursquare, using a format created in partnership with advertising firm Grey Canada.

The app was created with the help of communication design firm Strut Creative in Calgary, where the Missing Children Society is also based.

"We're not-for-profit. And we operate on, you know, $10 a day," Ms. Pick added with a laugh. "Funds are really challenging for us. So, partnerships are for me the key in really making things happen."

When she arrived at the society four years ago, the first partnership was with the press-release service Marketwired, which immediately sends out "amber" alerts for missing children, as well as Critical Child Search Alerts, which haven't made amber status per se, but represent a child possibly in danger. This then led to the program letting Canadians donate access to their social media sites. The Missing Children Society doesn't have complete control over the sites; it can only post onto people's news feeds.

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"I want to reach everybody. I want information on a missing child to be in everybody's hand immediately," Ms. Pick said.

Then came more logistical partnerships under the banner CodeSearch. WestJet Airlines, one of the partners, allows immediate flights for people involved in a missing child case. "They fly our team and our staff anywhere in the country to work on cases, and then they provide all the flights to bring children home as well," Ms. Pick said.

Other corporations, such as energy company Tervita, donate the use of emergency-response teams and operations, including the use of helicopters and all-terrain vehicles. This was all logistically possible through the development of the smartphone app, which provides much closer communication between private crews and law enforcement.

It has all been a process of creating an expanding network of people, technology and logistics to immediately respond to an alert.

"It's been amazing to watch, asking partners not just to contribute to the work that we're doing by writing a cheque, but to ask them to look at the work that they do and how that can make a difference in the work that we're doing," Mr. Pick said.

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About the Author

Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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