April 17, 2014

AMBER alerts coming to cell phones

For years, AMBER Alerts have appeared on highway signs, billboards, broadcast media, and even recently on social networking sites. Now, the Justice Department says the alerts will be sent directly to wireless devices — automatically — in areas where children are reported missing or in trouble.

Susan WhiteHorse is with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation — Wisconsin Missing and Exploited Children and Adults. “With the constant improvements in technology we are constantly moving forward and this definitely enhances our AMBER alert program.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been sending out alerts since January using the federal government’s Wireless Emergency Alert system — the same system that disseminates presidential alerts and imminent weather warnings.

The alerts are sent out regionally, WhiteHorse says, including specific information, for example, a vehicle description and license plate. “In fact, I know that just last week Minnesota actually activated through this system … the vehicle was located outside an apartment building and there was a person that received the alert … and the child was recovered safely.”

The alerts have a distinct tone and vibration, so you’ll know it when you get it. Despite all the new technology, the most important aspect of this system is the public. “They are the ones that really protect and save the lives of children because they pay attention to these alerts.”

The AMBER Alert has been activated 23 times in Wisconsin since the program began in 2003, and has safely recovered more than 30 children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 600 children nationwide have been rescued throughout the 17 years of the AMBER Alert program.

There’s no financial cost or privacy issues with the system, which doesn’t need to know your phone number. You can also opt out, if you choose. The Wisconsin DOJ has not used the new system yet since its implementation at the beginning of this year. When receiving AMBER Alerts you will get geographically targeted information to help identify an abducted child, a suspected abductor or a vehicle suspected to be involved in an abduction.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children offers answers to FAQs regarding AMBER Alerts and Wireless Emergency Alerts.

NOTE: The Wisconsin AMBER Alert Plan is a collaborative effort between the Wisconsin DOJ, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Wisconsin Public Radio, the Dane County Public Safety Communication Center, the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Wisconsin State Emergency Communications System and local law enforcement agencies.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:48