Emergency Registry Helps Locate Family Members, Friends
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2005 As news coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks flashed across television and computer screens, thousands of Americans wondered if family members living in or visiting New York or Washington, D.C., were alive and well.
Partially due to the personal turmoil caused by the 9/11 attacks, Mark Cerney, a disabled U.S. Marine veteran, established the National Next-of-Kin Registry, a free emergency contact system that can help citizens find missing loved ones in the event of serious accidents or catastrophic national emergencies.
The privately funded NOKR was officially established in January 2004, Cerney said during a Feb. 24 telephone interview from his office in Temecula, Calif. Four million people, he said, have registered to date. People can input personal data about themselves or loved ones at the registry's Web site.
Registry users, Cerney explained, include families and individuals registering personal information about themselves, their children, other relatives, and friends.
"All we need is a name and address as far as a point of contact (is concerned)," he pointed out, noting registrants may provide additional information if they so desire.
Cerney said he first became interested in starting a next-of-kin registry in 1990, when a family member died at a convalescent facility in San Diego.
"To my dismay, there was no way to contact me," noted Cerney, who was in Hawaii at the time, "even though the people at the facility knew that I was the next of kin."
He recalled that he'd lost cell-phone contact with a close friend who was in New York City on the day of the terrorist attacks. The friend survived, but Cerney said he was shaken by the experience.
Cerney cited U.S. Centers for Disease Control statistics from 2003 that said 900,000 people in hospital emergency rooms that year couldn't provide emergency contact information because they were incapacitated by illness or injury. Several states, he noted, recently have passed laws requiring hospitals to collect information on patients' next of kin.
State-issued driver's licenses, Cerney pointed out, may contain some personal information, but "don't list a next of kin" in the event of an accident that may occur far away from the victim's home. And, most Social Security records, he added, don't identify next of kin.
And, for people who are single and live alone, Cerney observed, it's much harder for authorities to make a next-of-kin determination.
Other personal identification organizations exist, Cerney acknowledged, but they charge as much as $200 for their services. The NOKR gives affluent, less- wealthy, and indigent citizens the opportunity to archive personal information "in the event that that information is needed," he said.
The NOKR is unique, Cerney said, noting, "There's been no resource like this anywhere in the United States."
Some organizations linked to the NOKR, Cerney noted, include the "FirstGov" federal government Web site, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the National Center for Missing Adults, the National Association of Medical Examiners, the Amber Alert missing children system, homeless care organizations, and several state and local government and police agencies and coroner's offices.
The registry also is linked to the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, he said, as well as several tsunami-victim locator groups.
People who'd hesitate to use the NOKR because of privacy concerns shouldn't worry, Cerney said. Minimum information required for registration can be found in phone books, he explained, and much greater amounts of personal information can now be readily purchased over the Internet.