Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- They come in all different shapes and sizes from a flagpole off of Rosewood to a pine tree on Beltline, but cell phone towers could potentially help find a missing person.
According to investigator Elizabeth Cook, "All cell phones work off of course cell towers and the technology varies from phone to phone, but there are signals being sent back and forth even when the phone is not in use as long as the phone is turned on."
Cook is an Investigator with Stillinger Investigations in Columbia, she says you need at least three cell phone towers to find a location of a cell phone, a term called triangulation.
Cook said, "The amount of time it takes for that signal to return to the cell tower tells how far away the phone is from that tower. When you look at one singular tower it is a circular area where the phone may be located in."
"If those signals are being sent back and forth between several cell towers, where all those circles interlap is where the phone is located," according to Cook.
According to Cook cell tower triangulation is not the only tool that can be used to potentially find cell phones.
"Handset based technology where people normally think of GPS or geo-location information and that is the system that uses the satellite to track a persons location," according to Cook.
Cook said, a combination of the two technologies is the best, but there are always obstacles to get this data.
"It can be very difficult to track a phone everybody thinks it is magic technology, you have to deal with the phone companies who have a rightful concern, as to who is asking for this data," said Cook.
Cook added that it is tough to track people due to privacy issues, but if parents are providing a cell phone to their kids, the technology is available to track their children in real-time through on-line programs.