The “ding” of an incoming smartphone notification interrupts her train of thought, and for a moment, she considers not looking right away. Giving in, she glances at the screen and freezes: The alert tells her that for the third time this week, the same gray SUV has been spotted slowly circling through the area near her daughter’s school as the day moves toward its close. Other priorities forgotten, she heads out the door to “treat” her little girl to a ride, rather than a walk, home from school.
Created in the aftermath of a lost child incident that fortunately had a happy ending, AlertID started six years ago as a way to provide parents with safety information. With encouragement from local, state and national law enforcement (including the FBI), the free app has expanded its services to also include virtual neighborhood watch; smartphone notification and email alerts on crime reports, fires and severe weather; and a vast library of resources for school administrators and parents on topics that include school safety, alcohol and drug abuse, bullying and cyberbullying, cell phone and Internet safety, and gang violence prevention.
AlertID founder Keli Wilson says it all started in 2009, when she and her husband became separated from their three children at a park for about 45 minutes: “I realized I didn’t have the information I needed to give to security to help them find my children. Our original idea was to create a secure website where parents could store photos and other identifying information about their children, but over time it has become so much more.”
Drawing on information from local public safety agencies, various national crime databases and sex offender registries, AlertID allows users to sign up for alerts in as many neighborhoods as they wish, letting them track activities near their children’s schools, their own workplaces and the homes of other relatives as well as their own residences. And whether they use AlertID on their computers or through a smartphone app, the service includes two-way communication, allowing them to submit information and post “watch out” photos and information for their neighbors.
“We work cooperatively with many law enforcement agencies across the country, often tying directly into their CAD [computer aided dispatch] systems so we can grab information and push it out to our members. It doesn’t provide house numbers but our users know the vicinity of incidents,” Wilson says. “And with most state sex offender registries, users get all the details. You know if they move, you know if they change jobs. We’re also tied directly to the National Weather Service for severe weather alerts, and McGruff and the National Crime Prevention Council [NCPC] provide us with the tips and prevention information our users search in our Live Safely Resource Center.”
In addition to partnering with NCPC, AlertID also works with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and other organizations. Since its inception in 2009, AlertID has:
All of these things come together to make a difference in so many people’s lives,” Wilson says. “There was an incident we heard about where a suspicious vehicle followed a little girl home from school. Her mother reported it to police, but she also posted the information as a community alert, so all members within a one-mile radius knew to be on the lookout for this automobile.”
She also cites other success story examples, including one involving an older neighbor who befriended a little boy, another about a real estate agent who offered to let a mother and child stay with him while they searched for a home in a new town: Thanks to AlertID, both were found, in time, to be registered sex offenders.
“This started as a passion that I could do something to make the world a better place, and that motivates me to keep going every day,” Wilson says. “We really encourage everyone to sign up for it, to use it to help themselves and prevent tragedies or crimes in their lives.”