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On June 17 at 10am, 7-year-old Svetlana Vasileva went to pick berries with her mother in a forest near her house. They got split up shortly thereafter, and Svetlana got lost in the woods. By 4pm, the missing child’s information and the location where she was last seen spread through Liza Alert’s network.
Within minutes, dozens of volunteers signed up to form a search party. Those who had no mode of transportation began to coordinate meet-up locations with those who had cars. Some individuals brought walkie-talkies, maps, compasses, and flashlights, others water and food, still others brought tents and sleeping bags. Fortunately, the overnight gear was not needed – volunteers found Svetlana alive and well by 8:30 that night.
Liza Alert is a Russian non-governmental organization that dedicates itself to finding missing persons, usually children and the mentally ill. The organization got started in late 2010, when 5-year-old Liza Fomkina and her aunt went missing while walking their dog in the woods. Local authorities were not able to organize a proper search party for five days, but when news of the missing pair went viral, hundreds of volunteers showed up to contribute to the search. Unfortunately, it was too late – Liza and her aunt died of exposure to cold. During the course of the search, many volunteers got to know each other and decided to help missing children in the future.
The NGO encourages everyone who has spare time to participate in the rescue missions. Those who cannot go on actual searches are asked to help in other ways – alerting the media, coordinating the search from the rescue headquarters, providing supplies, finding and distributing detailed maps of the search area, and much more.
The operations are highly organized. Field volunteers apply for positions that cater to their strengths: strong swimmers check rivers and lakes; licensed pilots are encouraged to take to the air; rescue dog owners are asked to bring along their canines. The volunteers partner and coordinate with local authorities and other rescue teams to ensure optimal effectiveness. Some come from hundreds of miles away to contribute their time and efforts.
While the internet is one of the primary modes of communication and coordination, the group relies on radio broadcasts (it is partnered with the well-known radio station Echo of Moscow), text messages, and telephone calls to spread information about the missing persons. This crowdsourced effort has paid off for many families – since the group’s founding, the organization has expanded rapidly and was able to rescue over 100 people.
Unfortunately, not all rescue efforts end as well as they did for Svetlana and her family. But Liza Alert’s effectiveness attests to the power a group of individuals with some free time and a desire to do good can have in helping to avert devastating tragedies and make the world a better place for all.