Amber Alert

A very effective program when a child is missing.

An Amber Alert is a procedure used by law enforcement officials to alert the public when a child has been abducted. There are certain criteria that must be met before this strategy is used to help locate a missing youngster.

About Amber Alert

The term "Amber Alert" stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It was named to honor the memory of Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas. Amber was 9 years old when she was kidnapped while riding her bicycle and murdered. Police in Dallas-Fort Worth joined forces with local law enforcement to develop a way to notify the public about abducted children shortly after the event occurs. The program is now in place across the United States and in Canada.

How the Program Works

When police officials determine that the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert have been met, the alert is issued and distributed to broadcasters as well as state transportation officials. The news of the missing child is broadcast by television and radio stations. Highway signs are used to notify the public as well. Information about the Amber Alert can also be distributed by cell phone text messages or via the Internet.

Wireless Alerts

Members of the public can choose to receive information about alerts on their cell phones. The wireless program is a joint effort between the Department of Justice, the The Wireless Foundation, and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. All major carriers participate in the Wireless alert program, and the FCC requires a carrier to notify you if the carrier does not participate.

An alert can be issued across state lines, if police officials have reason to believe that a child has been taken across state lines. Many states have arrangements in place where they cooperate with each other when requested to put out an alert by another state's program coordinator.

Criteria for Issuing an Alert

Each state sets its own criteria for issuing an Amber Alert. Under the provisions of the PROTECT Act, the Department of Justice ("DOJ") sets minimum standards for issuing an Amber Alert, and states can voluntarily adopt them if they wish. Here are the DOJ criteria:

  • The police department must confirm that a child abduction has taken place
  • The child must be a minor (17 years of age or younger)
  • The child is in danger of being injured or killed
  • Police must have enough information about the child's appearance, the kidnapper, or the suspected vehicle involved in the kidnapping to issue an Alert

The DOJ also recommends that the news of a confirmed child abduction be entered into the National Crime Information Center administered by the FBI. The details surrounding the abduction are put into the system.

Other Strategies for Locating Missing Children

Rather than issue an Amber Alert every time a child is missing, police officials only use this strategy in certain situations. The alert is only one strategy that is used to attempt to locate missing children as quickly as possible. Other strategies that police use are:

  • Assembling and deploying a search team
  • Using tracking dogs to follow the missing child's scent

This program is a very effective early warning system to notify the public when a child has been abducted. The Amber Alert has successfully recovered over 430 children (2009). This program may also be an effective deterrent for would-be abductors, since they know that the information about the event will be distributed to the public quickly and efficiently. For a list of state web sites and contacts, please click here.

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