Disaster response tools that find missing people and save lives



In the wake of a disasters, it’s often a struggle for families, friends, neighbors, emergency response workers, and healthcare providers to locate, identify, and report missing persons.


IRP researchers led by George Thoma, Ph.D., Michael Gill, Glenn Pearson, and collaborators developed the People Locator® — a Web-based software system that utilizes a “Disaster Patient Data Exchange” database containing information from local hospitals and additional input from triage area mobile phones and social networks. In a disaster, this system can facilitate family reunification, help provide reassurance, enhance coordination among disaster response NGOs, and alleviate some of the workload on public health personnel and other responders who interact with the community.


People Locator® and Google Person Finder share information so that missing persons are listed in both places, and together the systems serve as an online ‘lost and found’ of people in times of crisis. One example is the story of a Pakistani man who is alive today because of the quick thinking of IRP experts and their use of the PEOPLE LOCATOR® system during the October 2015 Hindu Kush earthquake. Software developer Tehseen Sabir spotted a ‘cry for help’ among the missing person entries received from Google Person Finder following a devastating magnitude 7.5 earthquake that struck South Asia. IRP staff immediately reached out to authorities about a man trapped under a collapsed roof, and within six hours a rescue team found him.


People Locator® website and ReUnite app for Android and iOS.

Borovikov E, Lingappa G. (2012). Face matching in Lost Person Finder Project. NLM LHNCBC Computer Engineering Branch Technical Report.

Candemir S, Borovikov E, Santosh KC, Antani SK, Thoma G. (2015). RSILC: Rotation- and Scale-Invariant, Line-based Color-aware descriptor. Image and Vision Computing. 42:1-12.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, June 29, 2023