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The “Amber Alert”

WASHINGTON – JULY 12: John Walsh, host of TV show ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and co-founder of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), speaks during a news conference to announce the creation of a wireless Amber Alert solution that extends the reach of Amber Alerts to mobile phone users through the Emergency Alert System (EAS) July 12, 2004 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Nextel is the first wireless carrier to work with the alert coordinators and NCMEC towards the development of a wireless text message alert. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

We’ve all heard the term “Amber Alert.,”  but you might not know exactly what determines when an Amber Alert is issued and who issues it. The alert is named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996.

An “Amber Alert” or “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response” is the official wording chosen to work with the name Amber.

Alternative Names

Before Amber Alert became nationally known some local jurisdictions throughout the US used their own local terminology. For example, in Georgia it was “Levi’s Call” for Levi Frady; Hawaii used “Maile Amber Alert” after Maile Gilbert. In Arkansas, “Morgan Nick Amber Alert” named for Morgan Chauntel Nick.

The Amber Alert Network

Radio stations, Internet radio, satellite radio, TV stations and Cable TV all cooperate in broadcasting Amber Alerts across the country. You might have seen an Amber Alert on your cell phone if you signed up to receive them. E-mail, traffic condition signs on freeways and interstates are also used.

Google and Facebook have also joined the Amber Alert Network providing info to their very sizable audience.

Who Makes The Decision To Issue An Amber Alert?

When a child is abducted there is an investigation to make sure that it is both a true abduction and that the child may be in serious danger. There are some very strict guidelines issued by the US Department of Justice that most states follow.

They are:

  1. Law enforcement must confirm that an actual abduction has taken place.
  2. The child must be at risk of serious injury or death.
  3. There must be a sufficient description of the child, the captor, or if possible, the captor’s vehicle and license plate for citizens to watch for.
  4. The child must be under the age of 18.

False Alarms Or Lost Children

The above criteria are designed to reduce false alarms or kid’s just hiding to keep from getting in trouble at home. Parental abductions don’t always place a child in danger of injury or death so some states don’t always use #2. West Virginia passed Skylar’s Law that eliminated #1 from their criteria. In the case of their state, a child might be lost in a mine or woods rather than an abduction.

Foreign Countries

Amber Alerts are entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada use the same criteria as the US.

If there is a belief that a child might be taken across either the Canadian or Mexican border then U.S. Customs and Border Protection, United States Border Patrol and the Canada Border Services Agency are notified. They are responsible to search vehicles crossing the border until the alert is called off.

Canada can also issue a Canadian Amber Alert at the behest of American law enforcement to aid in the search for the missing child in Canada.

Some Final Thoughts

Innocent children are trusting of adults and in too many cases that trust results in terrible abuse and often death. Unfortunately Amber Alerts are all too common in today’s society. So the next time you hear one or see it on your phone or hear it on your radio take a minute to absorb it and be aware of the information.

I can’t begin to imagine the horror of losing a child but imagine the joy you would bring if you spot the car or recognize the child from the description and save his or her life.

We all need to do our part in protecting our children any way we can. Be alert the next time you hear an Amber Alert.

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