CAROLINE, N.Y. — A lost child wandering on the side of Route 79 early one morning was safely reunited with his family with the help of several local officers, the county’s Swift 911 alert system and coordination from the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response.

The county implemented SwiftReach’s Swift911 alert system almost one year ago. It has been used to send out alerts about road closures, police activity and other emergencies to residents of Tompkins County. This August was the first time the system was used to help get a lost child home.

At about 4 a.m. Aug. 18, the Tompkins County 911 Center received reports of a young child walking alone on Route 79 in the Town of Caroline. Deputies from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office were quickly dispatched, but two off-duty officers from the Ithaca Police Department who happened to be traveling in the area also came across the child and contacted the dispatch center. The officers found the child was have trouble communicating, was very upset and confused and could not provide information about why he was on the side of the road at that time.

Deputies also arrived on scene, confirmed the child wasn’t injured and canvassed the area to find the child’s residence or identity, but were not able to find any information. Deputies on the scene working with dispatchers at the 911 Center opted to utilize the Swift911 system to try to locate someone in the area who might have information about the child. The 911 Center was able to send an alert to several hundred resident in a specific radius from where the child was found.

The alert worked. Within minutes, the 911 Center received two phone calls with information and deputies were able to return the child home safely.

District Attorney Matthew Van Houten detailed the incident and said the child was in a very vulnerable position when found.

“I think this is a great occasion to honor the Department of Emergency Response for this system which clearly worked,” Van Houten said. “Who knows what harm might’ve come to this child if it didn’t work.”

Lee Shurtleff, director of the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response, said the goals of the department are to provide communication, coordination and cooperation. All of those came together Aug. 18. By coordinating officers on the scene and issuing an alert, officers were able to reunite the child to his family.

Related: Tompkins launches system to send important alerts directly to residents; how to sign up

On Monday, the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response received the Frank G. Hammer Officer of the Month Award from the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca-Cayuga. The award often goes to police officers who go above and beyond, but sometimes it goes to other agencies that also protect the community, such as in March when the Ithaca Fire Department was honored.

Dispatch Supervisor David Cotterill, Emergency Services Dispatcher Alex Kreutzer and Lee Shurtleff, director of Tompkins County Emergency Response, received the award Monday at the luncheon held at Kendal at Ithaca.

Other officers were also recognized for their work getting the child to safety including Sgt. Kyle Koskinen and Deputy Stephen Moracco of the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office; Sgts. Kevin Slattery and Barry Banfield of the Ithaca Police Department; and Emergency Services Dispatchers Michael Collins and Stephanie Gonzalez.

Tompkins County officially rolled out the Swift911 system last October as a way to send important alerts directly to citizens. Throughout the years, the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response has continuously evolved with technology, Shurtleff said. With how common cellphones are today versus landlines, one of the biggest challenges dispatchers face is being able to pinpoint a person’s location.

The Tompkins County Department of Emergency handles up to 45,000 calls per year and dispatches to 10 police agencies, four ambulance services and 18 fire departments. Shurtleff said much of what dispatchers do is “provide a situational awareness to our public safety responders.”

Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler said emergency dispatchers are key because they are the initial information takers.

“If they get it wrong, our citizens get hurt, our police officers, firefighters, first responders, go into harm’s way without the critical information,” Tyler said.

For more information about Swift911 or to sign up, visit this website.

Featured image: From left, Lee Shurtleff, director of Tompkins County Emergency Response; District Attorney Matthew Van Houten; Emergency Services Dispatcher Alex Kreutzer; Dispatch Supervisor David Cotterill; and Joshua Adams, president of the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca-Cayuga.

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.