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Like it or don't, modern technology can come in handy in emergencies [Column]

At 11:13 a.m. Thursday, all the cell phones in our office started going crazy.

It wasn't just our office, it happened all over Maryland when an Amber Alert was issued for a missing 11-year-old Dundalk girl, Caitlyn Virts, allegedly kidnapped by her non-custodial father, Timothy Virts.

Her story had an ending that was better than it could have been. Caitlyn was found unharmed at a motel in South Carolina with her father, who is also suspected of killing the Caitlyn's mother, then taking his daughter and fleeing south.

I find the technology aspect behind this entire story intriguing. How would the same situation have played out 25 years ago? Before cell phones? Before social media? Before many people had heard of the Internet? All of those came into play in this case.

Just about everyone with a smart phone or iPhone got the message: An Amber Alert was issued providing the license number of a 1999 black Dodge Durango. It meant anyone who saw that car should call police.

Think of how many people have cell phones. Does anyone not have one? Twenty-five years ago, how would police investigating the kidnapping have reached so many people so quickly?

Sure, they could put the alert on the overhead signs on I-95 and hundreds, if not thousands, of drivers would get the message – if the signs were that technologically advanced then. But without a cell phone available, what would a person have done had they spotted the suspicious car? Would someone commuting to work have taken the time to pull off the interstate and find a pay phone to make a report? I doubt it. Come to think of it, are there any pay phones left?

Then there are all those people who don't drive I-95. Like me, for instance. I'm on the interstate once or twice a month, tops, so the chances I would see such an alert were slim.

Television and radio would have been the best way 25 years ago to reach as many people as possible. A newspaper article might have worked, but only if the victim wasn't found for a while.

Unlike today, newspapers were not 24/7 operations. Stories could change drastically from the time they went to print to the time they appeared at a reader's doorstep, and even longer before they were read.

But now, news stories are updated around the clock, especially big news stories like the kidnapping of Caitlyn Virts.

And with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, the world has updates even more the real media.

I hear a lot of talk about how those social media sites are a waste of time, how people spend all day on them and that it's sad those are the sources some people rely on for news. But, they have their advantages, and they certainly did in the Dundalk kidnapping case.

A motel owner in Florence, S.C., was looking on Facebook when she saw an Amber Alert with picture of the suspected kidnapper on her friend's page. The woman realized that man had just recently checked into the motel she owns with her husband. She called police, Timothy Virts was arrested and Caitlyn was found safe.

So, for all the gripes about how we rely too much on their cell phones, spend too much time on them, and are addicted to social media, just think about what might have happened in the case of Caitlyn Virts. The story may not have the happy ending everyone is talking about.

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