911 dispatchers train to better help in missing children cases

Waukesha County fifth in state to receive training

When a child goes missing, the sooner law enforcement can gather information, the more likely the child can be recovered safely. 

To better assist in missing children cases, Waukesha County 911 dispatchers just went through special training to help law enforcement. 

This training applies to children who run away, children who are abducted and especially for children with autism who are at an even greater risk of going missing. 

"It's a risk we live with every single day," said Angie Pingel, whose 11-year-old son has autism and is non-verbal. 

Pingel says they've had to install a six-foot fence around their property, put special locks on their doors and just recently received a service dog to keep their son safe. 

"I can't even count the number of times my kid escaped from school," she said. "He just runs out the door because he gets overwhelmed and he needs a break."

While she's never had to call 9-1-1 for her son, the new training at the Waukesha County Communications Center will help families like hers. 

According to a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics, nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorders are reported to wander and more than half of these children go missing.

Devin Stemwell is one of the 911 dispatchers in Waukesha County and says the training taught them to ask more in depth questions in missing children cases. 

"Being able to identify more of the behaviors, those types of questions to ask, rather than your basic 'what were they wearing, where were they last seen,'" he said. 

They were taught that children with autism are drawn to water and may try and find a place to hide. 

But in any case of a missing child, Gary Bell says the 911 dispatcher's role is critical. 

"I think it starts the wheels in motion we have really total control of the event," said Bell, who is the Director of Emergency Preparedness for Waukesha County. 

Bell says they are one of five dispatch centers in the state with this type of training. 

"The quicker we react and the more forcefully we react is vitally important to the outcome," he said. 

"It gives me comfort that they have some training and experience with kids with autism," said Pingel. "It can go from a little wandering to a very serious and life-threatening situation very quickly." 

The other 911 dispatcher centers with this training are Cedarburg, Bayside, Brown County and Marinette County. 
 

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