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This column is a letter of appreciation to our own Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station staff and our 911 responders. You see, last Friday our family got the type of scare that shakes parents to the core. A missing or injured daughter, either seriously injured or vanished without a trace. 

It all started while on my morning bike ride. My Apple watch went off with an alarm that my daughter Katie had experienced a critical emergency and that I was her selected contact to intercede or rescue. The emergency message located her in the vicinity of Lyons and Chestnut, near the Egg Plantation restaurant.  

I immediately got to my car, sped down Old Orchard toward Lyons, and as I approached the intersection, two ambulances and one fire truck sped by in the direction of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. My heart sank as I feared the worst. Katie is epileptic from a past accident and if she misses just a few doses she’s subject to grand mal seizures at any time and place. Had Katie seized at a local restaurant? 

I hurried to the designated spot and began running in and out of every storefront, searching for Katie and asking if anyone had seen her. I hit all the restaurants, storefronts; asked staff to check bathrooms, asked folks on the street if they’d seen anything. Nothing. No Katie, no sightings, and yet still no answer on her phone or watch. And then, I found her car on the street, locked, and still no Katie anywhere near that area. Had she been abducted and hit the emergency button in the process? 

I called 911 to discuss the situation. The situation was sufficiently threatening they sent sheriff’s deputies to the location. On reviewing the situation, one deputy went to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, but amazingly, no one had been recently admitted, despite the two ambulances I’d seen.  

Deputy Martinez took a full missing person’s report and sent the info out on the radio. In the event of a kidnapping or otherwise missing person, the first minutes and hours can be the most urgently important toward a successful location. 

I searched, they searched, and good folks around the restaurants all searched. But no Katie. Ninety minutes had passed since the alarm. 

A third deputy arrived on the scene and informed us he’d been exactly at the same spot earlier when the ambulances had indeed arrived earlier. There’d been a fire alarm that went off at a yoga studio tucked into the far side of a building off Lyons. The staff had been unable to turn off the alarm and it triggered a police response and a fire response and an ambulance response. The whole gang had been exactly where we were all huddled up looking for Katie, but 90 minutes earlier, about the time when I received the emergency notice from Katie’s phone. 

Something was plainly odd and connected and we sensed it, just as Katie, aloof of all that had been transpiring, walked up behind us, carrying her pink yoga pad. Our first words were expression of relief, followed by quick questioning of what the heck was going on. She had no idea the phone had sent out the urgent message. 

Katie explained that, shortly after the start of her yoga session the fire alarm had gone off and all hell broke loose as the staff was unable to turn the alarm off. Patrons grabbed their things, vacated the building and, apparently, in the confusion, Katie grabbed her phone in a way that inadvertently dialed the emergency notice. Her phone had been silenced for the yoga session, so she never knew the alarm had been triggered. A mishap, in a mishap, wrapped in a mishap – with a lot of ambulances and cop cars flying up and down Lyons Friday morning. 

No one wants a false alarm, particularly busy law enforcement. Still, the officers were understanding and, given they’d already dealt with a false alarm from the area in the first place, a connecting mishap was at least understandable. 

Through it all, all the local sheriff’s deputies were professional, purposeful, efficient and concerned. They were there to protect and to serve and they did exactly that, highly professionally. 

Deputy Martinez explained that missing persons is no small matter in L.A. County. “It happens all the time,” he warned. Single women and little kids are the most common targets. And many, he sadly warned, are never heard from again. Can you imagine experiencing that kind of anguish? 

We all left happy nothing more than time was lost, but a lesson learned was also gained. For sure, be aware of your surroundings. For sure, teach your kids safety rules about strangers and unfamiliar vehicles.  

Importantly, if you have cellphone watches or phones, take the time to link them together so your family can geo-locate each other in real time. My phone wasn’t geo-attached to Katie’s so I couldn’t quite nail down her exact location. Had that feature been turned on we could have “pinged” Katie and the matter would have been resolved nearly instantly. If I were the parent of young kids, I think I’d go as far as, with their knowledge, placing a geo-tag in their school bags, wallets, or purses, just to play it safe. Not for “big brothering,” but to add protection against “missing persons” — what Deputy Martinez explained is more of a problem than we know or ever want to experience. 

Thank you to our fine local sheriff’s staff and to our quick and efficient 911 folks. Thanks for the lesson learned about being geo-connected to our loved one. 

In your own homes and families, perhaps it’s a good time to talk about personal safety and review your own geo-locating devices to speed response to accidents or, God forbid, crimes. We bemoan some aspects of intrusive technology, but this is one area where the “intrusion” brings benefits to mitigate real-world modern risks. 

Thank you, SCV Sheriff’s Station. Thanks for the service and thanks for the timely lesson. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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