In 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas was kidnapped while riding her bicycle and then brutally murdered. In response to Amber’s death, local broadcasters from radio and television voluntarily partnered with local Texas law enforcement to broadcast specific information about child abductions. In the Dallas Fort Worth area, this partnership helped develop an early warning system model to find abducted children. Soon after the Dallas Fort Worth model was created, various other states and communities followed suit and created their own unique AMBER systems. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. Currently, all 50 states have AMBER plans in place. An AMBER plan makes it possible for an entire community, state, or a collection of states to assist in the search or an abducted child. It essentially allows for each of us to become the eyes and ears of our local law enforcement agencies.
Once it has been verified by local law enforcement officials that a child has been abducted and the abduction meets certain criteria, these same officials notify broadcasters and state transportation officials through the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The EAS, which is normally reserved for notifying the public about emergency situations, now is able to transmit abduction information to a wide audience. The abduction notifications, now known as Amber Alerts, interrupt regular programming on both radio and television. As technology has increased, Amber Alerts are now made available on wireless devices and networks such as cell phones and the Internet. Electronic highway billboards, normally reserved for traffic and highway construction information are now being programmed to display Amber Alert information. Amber Alerts are even being issued on lottery tickets.
The information that can be used in an Amber Alert can include descriptions and pictures of the abducted child, information about the suspected abductor, the vehicle the suspected abductor may be using, and any other available information that may help in finding the child and the suspected abductor. However, for an Amber Alert to be issued certain criteria must be met. This includes verification by law enforcement that an abduction has taken place, the child is at risk of serious injury or death, sufficient available information about the child or suspected abductor or the vehicle being used in the abduction, and the child must be 17 years or younger. Then the child’s information is entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer and is flagged as a child abduction. The Amber Alert system has proved to be a valuable tool in assisting local law enforcement officials search and recover abducted children.
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