Send to

Choose Destination
Acad Emerg Med. 2012 Nov;19(11):1227-34. doi: 10.1111/acem.12013.

A novel image-based tool to reunite children with their families after disasters.

Author information

Division of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.



Reuniting children with their families after a disaster poses unique challenges. The objective was to pilot test the ability of a novel image-based tool to assist a parent in identifying a picture of his or her children.


A previously developed image-based indexing and retrieval tool that employs two advanced vision search algorithms was used. One algorithm, Feature-Attribute-Matching, extracts facial features (skin color, eye color, and age) of a photograph and then matches according to parental input. The other algorithm, User-Feedback, allows parents to choose children on the screen that appear similar to theirs and then reprioritizes the images in the database. This was piloted in a convenience sample of parent-child pairs in a pediatric tertiary care hospital. A photograph of each participating child was added to a preexisting image database. A double-blind randomized crossover trial was performed to measure the percentage of database reviewed and time using the Feature-Attribute-Matching-plus-User-Feedback strategy or User-Feedback strategy only. Search results were compared to a theoretical random search. Afterward, parents completed a survey evaluating satisfaction.


Fifty-one parent-child pairs completed the study. The Feature-Attribute-Matching-plus-User-Feedback strategy was superior to the User-Feedback strategy in decreasing the percentage of database reviewed (mean ± SD = 24.1 ± 20.1% vs. 35.6 ± 27.2%; mean difference = -11.5%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = -21.5% to -1.4%; p = 0.03). Both were superior to the random search (p < 0.001). Time for both searches was similar despite fewer images reviewed in the Feature-Attribute-Matching-plus-User-Feedback strategy. Sixty-eight percent of parents were satisfied with the search and 87% felt that this tool would be very or extremely helpful in a disaster.


This novel image-based reunification system reduced the number of images reviewed before parents identified their children. This technology could be further developed to assist future family reunifications in a disaster.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center