I had the opportunity to speak with Martin Persson from Västerbotten and Nordbotten districts regarding their work in missing person cases. We had a pleasant conversation when he visited our facilities here in Parkano. This article is written from a neutral point of view to identify similarities and differences between Missing People and the Volunteer Rescue Service (Vapepa).
Missing People then, Missing People today
Missing People Sweden was founded in Gothenburg in 2012 after several people had gathered to help in the search for two missing people. It was during the fall of 2010 and the winter of 2011 that two similar disappearances took place in Gothenburg, where it became clear that society did not have enough resources to search for missing persons. As a reaction to that, the non-profit association Sökarna Västra Götaland was first started ; an association with local roots whose purpose was to gather and organize a large number of people when searching for missing persons. But quite soon it turned out that there was a need for search efforts in other parts of the country, and in connection with that, Missing People was formed.–https://www.missingpeople.se/om-oss/
Missing People was founded 11 years ago and celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2023. Organizationally, Sweden is divided into districts, each with its own operational area. Funding for Missing People comes from private corporations, such as insurance companies, and monthly donors. On the other hand, Vapepa primarily receives its funding from government distribution through STEA and a few private donors or organizations like the Finnish Red Cross.
Both organizations can be audited by government officials to ensure the correct use of funds.
Missing People receives no government funding but exists and can operate thanks to donations from the public. Below you will find information on how you can support – both as a private person and as a company. Your contribution enables us to find more missing people, reunite families and save lives. Your support makes a difference. Together we are Missing People.– https://www.missingpeople.se/stod-oss/
Modus Operandi, operations and missing people cases
In missing people cases, Missing People engages in close cooperation with the Swedish police. The police can reach out to the 24/7 national connection line, where they receive local assistance on cases. Missing People is also authorized to initiate its own operations, but all activities require police acceptance. This stands in contrast to Vapepa, which solely assists the Finnish police in their operations and becomes involved only when needed.
Missing People volunteers also differ significantly in terms of training regimens. In Finland, individuals need to complete 4+8 hours of courses to be eligible to join the alarm system and receive SMS notifications for operations. In Sweden, on the other hand, volunteers can simply register their phone numbers via the website to join the alarm system. While Missing People provides training for group leaders and operational leaders, ”regular” search operatives, as part of the group, receive training and gain experience only within operations. In Finland, these volunteers would fall under the category of spontaneous volunteers and would require permission from the police before being included in operations.
Missing People also conducts follow-ups on missing person cases through social media and webpage notifications. They maintain a registry of missing person cases, deleting them upon case closure. In Finland, volunteers do not engage in this follow-up, and open cases are not made visible due to differences in national laws and processes regarding missing person cases within the police system. Missing People in Sweden may even have active search operations without police presence, whereas in Finland, the police always hold the main responsibility and lead operations.
The basic search regimen is based on similar ideas as the Missing Persons Search Operation (MSO) in Finland. The profile of the missing person influences the area of the search and the type of search operation in the field, including route-, patrol-, and other search types. Additionally, the management of search operations sounds, on a basic level, similar to that in Finland. There are at least three persons on the command post to carefully organize and document the search operation with a professional touch. Some operations may become very large, especially concerning children, with over a thousand search operatives involved due to differences in training regimens and the requirements for joining the organization.
How to identify operatives
In both countries, the logo of the search organization must be visible during the operation. Regarding trained personnel, Missing People also requires the ID card to be visible, which is something we could take note of here in Finland.
Insurances in both countries cover operations when individuals are signed in to the operation. In Sweden, this is provided by an insurance company that financially supports Missing People functions, and in Finland, it is covered by the government due to operations being under police purview.
In Finland, within Vapepa, there are multiple associations, and as a result, numerous organization logos are visible during operations. In Sweden, this is not the case, and the visibility of logos is more streamlined. However, in Sweden, sponsor logos may be visible due to funding coming from the private sector.
Martin Persson, Insatsledare / Verksamhetsledare RA Västerbotten & Norrbotten.
Fortunately, Martin Persson was on a business trip in Finland a week after I contacted him regarding this article, and we were able to meet at our facilities here in Parkano.
Martin shared his personal journey into volunteering and the life-saving lifestyle it entails. He joined Missing People around 4.5 years ago due to his own child going missing multiple times in the past. One memorable incident occurred when his son went missing at a cabin, and after some searching, they found his red cap in the river. Fortunately, the story had a happy ending, but the close call motivated Martin to believe that his contribution could make a difference in the world.
Given his work, Martin is well-connected and is primarily responsible for public relations with donors in his area. Through his efforts, the organization has acquired a substantial amount of technical equipment. During his visit, he mentioned the procurement of a van with a high-grade thermal imaging camera and a drone worth several times more than our drones cost. Martin also plays a crucial role in nationwide equipment procurement at reasonable prices.
Martin raised some phenomena familiar to us here in Finland. He views Search and Rescue volunteering as a lifestyle choice, not just a hobby. It’s something you live and breathe, a sentiment I personally support. Another point he emphasized, which resonates with volunteers in Finland, is commitment. According to Martin, committing to self-improvement and maintaining skills in SAR operations should be an annual and personal responsibility for every volunteer. However, he noted that this commitment is lacking in around 70% of volunteers.
Call to action
We both strongly agreed on this point: there is a need for more volunteers and national-level cooperation to share experiences and best practices.
Volunteering in this type of action is undeniably a good deed, regardless of how one perceives the matter. Volunteers are the lifeblood of missing people cases due to the human resources and operatives required in the field. If you have even a slight inclination that this could be your hobby, don’t be a stranger—join up! You can find more information about Swedish Missing People on their website at https://www.missingpeople.se/, and for Finnish volunteering, visit https://vapepa.fi/.