Diseases & Conditions


AMBER Alert Plan

A voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies and broadcasters to disseminate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. Law enforcement and broadcasters use the Emergency Alert System (EAS; formerly called the Emergency Broadcast System) to air a description of the missing child and suspected abductor. This is the same concept used during severe weather emergencies. The goal of the AMBER Alert is to promptly involve communities to assist in the search for and safe return of abducted children. The AMBER Plan was created in 1996 as a legacy to nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered while riding a bicycle in Arlington, Texas. Outraged residents contacted radio stations in the Dallas area to suggest they broadcast special alerts to help prevent similar incidents in the future. In response to the community’s concern for the safety of local children, the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Radio Managers teamed up with local law-enforcement agencies in northern Texas and developed this innovative early-warning system to help find abducted children. How It Works Once law enforcement has been notified about an abducted child, it must first determine if the case meets the criteria for triggering an alert. Local and state programs establish specific criteria; however, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests that before an alert is activated, law-enforcement officers should confirm a child has been abducted and believe that the circumstances surrounding the abduction indicate that the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death. There should also be enough descriptive information about the child, abductor, and/or suspect’s car so that an immediate broadcast alert will help. If these criteria are met, alert information must be put together for public distribution. This information can include descriptions and pictures of the missing child, the suspected abductor, a suspected vehicle, and any other information available to identify the child and suspect. The information is then transmitted to area radio and television stations and cable systems via the EAS, and it is immediately broadcast by participating stations to listeners. Radio stations interrupt programming to announce the Alert, and television stations and cable systems run a “crawl” on the screen in addition to a picture of the child. The AMBER Alert system is currently operated in 46 states and has been responsible for the recovery of 121 children as of January 2004. While most communities and states have AMBER Alert plans, many do not have comprehensive, statewide coverage or the ability to communicate state-to-state, a critical need when an abducted child is taken across state lines. Although the AMBER Alert plan has been extremely successful since its initiation, it has not yet been implemented on a national level. National AMBER Alert Network legislation would help with state-to-state notification by establishing an AMBER Alert Coordinator within the Department of Justice to help states with their AMBER Alert plans. AMBER Alerts would continue to be issued by local and state law-enforcement agencies, and the coordinator would be responsible for facilitating regional coordination of AMBER Alerts, particularly with interstate travel situations. The coordinator also would help states, broadcasters, and police set up more AMBER Alert plans and set minimum voluntary standards to help states coordinate when necessary. In addition, the bill will provide for a matching grant program through the Department of Transportation for highway signage, education and training programs, and equipment to facilitate AMBER Alert systems. The AMBER Alert message encourages the public to look for a missing child or suspect. In the event a citizen spots a child, adult, or car fitting an AMBER Alert description, the person should immediately call the phone number given in the AMBER Alert and report as much information as possible.