Local 122 members Phillip Holden and Josh Montoro after locating Braxton and Bri’ya Williams with the help of Virtual Search Planning.

Jacksonville, FL Local 122 has been helping local law enforcement close out mission persons cases at an impressive rate, thanks to an emerging system that can accurately predict likely locations.

The system, called Virtual Search Planning (VSP) combines case studies, multiple data points on individuals, geography and weather, and then uses mapping software to predict directional patterns and possible locations of missing persons not believed to have been abducted.

For instance, a person with autism may be drawn to the calming effect of water, while young children are likely to be found less than 500 yards from their original locations. People are creatures of habit and VSP includes those habits in calculating positive locations.

Jacksonville Fire Department Battalion Special Operations Chief Robin Gainey, also a board member of Local 122, says each week some five or six persons are reported missing in the Jacksonville metro area, a city of more than 1 million people. Those missing are most often children, persons with disabilities or older persons with dementia. Abducted cases involve too many variables for the VSP system to be effective.

“Once the police department has contacted us, they have determined that a missing person has not been abducted and are seeking our help in the search,” says Gaines.

From there, the fire department will contact VSP, which is run by Paul Burke, a retired Alaska state trooper who has been searching for and finding people his entire career.

Burke will assemble essential bits of information, such as age, gender, medical history, local terrain and weather. That, coupled with decades of experience on predictive behavior, will help narrow the search dramatically and provide likely locations.

“We are essentially using statistical data and open-source information from the internet to create a high-definition picture of the missing person,” says Burke. “We predict where the person is and then say go find them now.”

In 2019, the department was successful in finding two siblings, ages five and seven, one with a disability, who had wandered away from their trailer home neighborhood and had been missing for more than two days. Using the VSP system and mapping software, fire fighters were able to find the children about 500 yards from their original location.

Gainey says the fire department is now locating missing persons 80 percent of the time.

Visit www.virtualsearch.me for more information.