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The thought of a child gone missing is every parent's worst nightmare, something most of us would consider unthinkable. This week, though, local law enforcement and public safety agencies gave the unthinkable some thought — sharing data, training and tips in an effort to improve their response to missing child incidents.

The training session held this week at the county's Public Safety Training Center in Westminster reflects well on officials' desire to prepare for such cases.

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Organized by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, the session on Wednesday brought together Maryland State Police and law enforcement representatives from Carroll, Baltimore, Dorchester, Washington and Worcester counties, as well as municipal departments including Sykesville and Westminster.

The session was led by Derek VanLuchene, a former law enforcement officer who is founder and president of Ryan United, an organization that works to bring attention to child abductions. He created the organization in memory of his brother, who was abducted and killed.

During Wednesday's training session, officials worked with a fictional scenario involving two missing girls, and were tasked with setting up and executing a plan to launch searches and investigations around the areas where the girls were thought to be. The scenario threw a few curves, expanding the search area and involving a few "suspects," giving participants a taste of the resources and critical thinking skills they need to react to fast-moving events.

Preparation isn't just for law enforcement. Parenting is a calling that requires many things — diligence perhaps in the greatest measure.

VanLuchene also offers tips for parents, chief among them the need to be involved and aware in the lives of their children. Yes, that can be a balancing act between oversight and respect for privacy, but it's a tightrope worth walking.

He encourages parents to know their children's friends, where they go and their online habits — he noted more than half of child abduction cases have a social media element.

On a practical side, VanLuchene recommends always having current pictures of your children available and even having a DNA swab test performed — and keeping the information handy. Also, he said parents should not wait to tell police if a child is missing. Time is critical, and the idea that parents have to wait 24 hours is simply a misconception.

Sadly, the phrase "Amber Alert" has become common to the vast majority of the general public. It's good to know that behind that phrase, law enforcement officials have a game plan to bring as many cases as possible to a happy end.

In Wednesday's fictional scenario, both girls were found alive and well. VanLuchene said that's the most common outcome. "Most of them that I've worked on have a happy ending," he said.

That's some comfort, but we've all heard of the cases that don't turn out well. Those are the ones that haunt us.

Wednesday's exercise was all about helping agencies think about what they need, where they are lacking and how best to prepare for the unthinkable. With a bit of thought and preparation, the event can serve that purpose for parents as well.

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