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AMBER Alert FAQ

Why was the AMBER Alert program created? 
How do AMBER Alerts work? 
What should I do when an AMBER Alert is issued? 
What are Wireless AMBER Alerts and how do I sign up? 

Why was the AMBER Alert program created? 

The AMBER Alert Program was created in 1996 as a powerful legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped and brutally murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas.

The tragedy shocked and outraged the entire community. Residents contacted radio stations in the Dallas area and suggested they broadcast special “alerts” over the airwaves so they could help prevent such incidents in the future. 

The next year local law enforcement and broadcasters created the AMBER Alert program in Amber Hagerman’s honor. The AMBER Alert program, also known as America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response Plan, is a program in which broadcasters and transportation authorities immediately distribute information about recent child abductions to the public, enabling the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of the child.

What began as a local effort in Dallas, Texas, has grown into a seamless system of AMBER Alert programs across the country, each year saving the lives of abducted children.

How do AMBER Alerts work? 

Once law enforcement has been notified about an abducted child, they must first determine if the case meets their AMBER Alert program’s criteria. The U.S. Department of Justice recommends the following criteria for issuing an AMBER Alert. 

  • There is reasonable belief by law enforcement an abduction has occurred
  • The abduction is of a child age 17 years or younger 
  • The law-enforcement agency believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death 
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child
  • The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer 

Guidance on Criteria for Issuing AMBER Alerts

If these criteria are met, alert information is assembled for public distribution. This information may include descriptions and pictures of the missing child, the suspected abductor, and a suspected vehicle along with any other information available and valuable to identifying the child and suspect.

The information is then faxed to radio stations designated as primary stations under the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Alert System (EAS). The primary stations send the same information to area radio and television stations and cable systems via the EAS, and participating stations immediately broadcast the information to millions of listeners. Radio stations interrupt programming to announce the Alert, and television stations and cable systems run a “crawl” on the screen along with a picture of the child.

Law enforcement also notifies NCMEC when an AMBER Alert is released for a specific geographical area. Once NCMEC validates the AMBER Alert, it is entered into a secure system and transmitted to authorized secondary distributors for dissemination to customers within the geographic areas specified. 

Some states are also incorporating electronic highway billboards in their AMBER Plans. The billboards, typically used to disseminate traffic information to drivers, now alert the public of abducted children by displaying pertinent information about the child, abductor, or suspected vehicle that drivers might look for on highways.

Only law enforcement can initiate and release AMBER Alerts for primary distribution.

What should I do when an AMBER Alert is issued? 

The AMBER Alert message encourages the public to look for the abducted child or suspect. You become the eyes and ears of local law enforcement.

In the event you spot a child, adult, or vehicle fitting the AMBER Alert description, immediately call the telephone number given in the AMBER Alert and provide authorities with as much information as you know.

What are Wireless AMBER Alerts and how do I sign up?

Wireless AMBER Alerts is an initiative to distribute AMBER Alerts to wireless subscribers who opt to receive the messages. Cell phone subscribers capable of receiving text messages — and whose wireless carrier participates in the Wireless AMBER Alerts Initiative — may elect to receive alerts by registering at www.wirelessamberalerts.org or their wireless carrier’s web site. Users may designate up to five zip codes from which they’d like to be alerted in the case of an AMBER Alert activation.

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