How can something that has such a tremendous potential for finding Missing Persons be free? It has to cost something to someone, does it not?. What's the catch? And if it is truly free, can it really be worth anything in the long run?
Let me dispel the myth that free is cheap. Time is money. Equipment cost money, operations cost money. In the case of the production of a Virtual Search Plan, the Analyst(s) conducting the VSP are being paid by someone, for the most part. They are members of an agency or organization, or in the private sector, and they have determined the saving of a live is a worthy endeavor. They have consciously decided to allow their personnel to engage in this activity in the hope that by their efforts, someone is saved. In the case of my agency, of which I am a full time employee with many other responsibilities, I have been allowed to conduct VSP work whenever and wherever it happens. There is a clear understanding the someone's life may be on the line and our work holds the key for solving their predicament. This "costs" my agency, and it isn't cheap. Between providing the office space, equipment, and my time, there is a cost to the process.
As corny or, let's say, illogical it may be to provide something of great value for free, there are things that are free simply because their cost is too valuable. Ask a missing person what the value of search efforts for them are worth, and they would not be able to put a price on it. Simply, they would spend a million dollars (if they had it) to be found. I'm not suggesting we spend a million dollars in the development of VSP, but it's clearly valuable to the missing person... even if it is free.
There is an ongoing dialogue within the search and rescue community that people who get lost should be charged for the costs associated with their recovery. This may be well and good to the few who, by their own significant "contributions", have caused their own predicament! In my career however, the vast majority of persons who have become lost have done so clearly by accident. And because it is an accident, should we really charge them for a service? I'll never convince either side that their's is the winning philosophy, but I will say this. "There, but by the Grace of God, go I", and so our efforts will remain as much as possible, free of cost.
If someone ever decided they would like to contribute to the VSP effort, well, there are certainly costs associated with this. None of these costs though are paid for with public funding. Websites, domains, toll-free lines, apps on phones, and other items all cost money, but for the moment we can cover those costs. We'll roll with the business model we have for the moment, always with the understanding that this was never a money-making proposition. It was a life-saving proposition, and that frees us up for all sorts of possibilities. No, free is not free, but for those who need this service, and for the lost or missing person, its the one cost they can afford.