We've all been there—middle of the night, sound asleep, exhausted after a day of wrangling kids, and our phone goes off with an AMBER Alert for a child on the other side of the state. Before you cuss at them for waking you and turn off your notifications it's important to understand how AMBER Alerts work and why you get the ones you do.
The AMBER Alert System
The AMBER Alert system, created in 1996 by broadcasters and law enforcement in Dallas-Ft. Worth to honor the memory of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bike and murdered, is now a nationwide system of alerts aimed at disseminating information about missing and endangered children to a wide audience with as much speed as possible. Since its inception, the AMBER alert system, which stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, has resulted in 967 children being reunited with their families. Amber's abduction and murder also resulted in the creation of the National Sex Offender Registry.
For a case to receive an AMBER Alert, it must meet 5 specific criteria: law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place, the child must be at risk of serious injury or death, there must be sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor's vehicle to issue an alert, and the child must be under 18 years of age. Cases that don't meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert can still receive federal assistance in the form of CART, Child Abduction Response Teams, which is a part of the Department of Justice.
Who Sends AMBER Alerts?
In the United States, AMBER Alerts are disseminated by the Emergency Alert System through radio stations, television stations, email, SMS messages, electronic billboards, and traffic signs. Lately, the AMBER Alert system has teamed up with Google, Bing, and Facebook, allowing the alerts to reach wider audiences since we're all always on our phones anyway.
If you use Google or Bing, either internet or map search, related to an area in which there is an active AMBER Alert, you'll receive a notification with information relevant to the alert. Facebook recently launched an updated AMBER Alert notification system. When users in geographically relevant areas log in to the social media site, they'll see an alert in their newsfeeds regarding active AMBER cases in the area. Users can then choose to share it with their followers.
As for those text alerts you get for seemingly random locations, law enforcement determines where a missing child is likely to be heading—where their assailant is taking them—and sends text alerts via the Emergency Alert System to everyone in the area the child went missing as well as areas where they might be heading. So even if you're 100 miles from where the child was taken, you might get an alert if authorities think there's a chance they could end up in your area.
- RELATED: When Your Child Is Kidnapped
If your child goes missing alert your local police department immediately. After contacting law enforcement you can contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who will be able to provide additional resources and support.