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Aiding the search for POWs/MIAs

This article appears in the issue January 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 1]


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User stories from the knowledge front Intelligent search technology is being enlisted in investigating the cases of prisoners of war (POW) and those missing in action (MIA) who are still unaccounted for decades later.

The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO, dtic.mil/dpmo) of the Department of Defense has selected Convera’s RetrievalWare as the information infrastructure software to search its POW/MIA databases. The software is being used to index and search across an archive of more than 2.5 million documents related to POW/MIA cases from the Vietnam, Korean, World War II and Cold War eras.

According to a recent press release from Convera, until recently all information pertaining to a missing personnel case was kept on paper and stored by the individual DPMO analyst working on the case. Because each analyst worked independently, information sharing was difficult. After decades of using the paper-based system, the DPMO has established a central searchable database for all information relating to missing personnel from each war era..

“After looking at several search options, we selected Retrieval Ware for a number of reasons,” says David Marchi, chief of information systems for the DPMO. “Its support for a wide variety of file formats was important to us, as was its scalable nature. We receive boxes of new documents to enter into the system all the time, and the speed of indexing is critical to our project as well.”

The first phase of the project involves digitizing all the hard-copy case records for missing personnel from the Vietnam War. Every document from each MIA case record is being added to the Personnel Missing--Southeast Asia database, which includes information on the 1,956 U.S. personnel still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

Databases for other war eras have also been created. The Personnel Missing--Korea database serves as the baseline to provide information about servicemen who did not return from the Korean War (1950-53). The Personnel Missing—Cold War database is used in the investigation of 14 missions in which aircraft members were lost and remain unaccounted for during that era stretching from 1946 to 1991. And a database of information relevant to personnel unaccounted for during World War II is also underway.

The DPMO also has a database of 10,000 to 15,000 photographs that could be useful in solving various cases. Eventually those will be digitized and added to the system.

“Each MIA case presents a unique and difficult challenge,” says Marchi. “In order to be as effective as possible, our analysts need tools that enable them to manage and access a broad range of information assets.”

The DPMO was created in 1993 to continue government efforts to resolve the case of every American service member who remains unaccounted for


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