NOT the Public Recognition you want to Get

You’ve almost certainly encountered the term AMBER Alert before, either on a local news show or as one showing up as an incoming text on your cell phone. You may know they are loud and can be annoying if they interrupt your life. But you may not know what they are or why you are being informed about them.

A few of the 897 Success stories of Amber Alerts

An AMBER Alert is specifically designed to help children who have been abducted and whose lives are believed to be in immediate danger. The program is named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was abducted in 1996 in Texas and brutally murdered. The letters in her name have since been turned into an acronym, so besides her name, AMBER now stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It is hoped that by announcing a child abduction to the surrounding community and giving details about the abductor, children can be located before they were seriously injured or killed. This program has grown into a nationwide effort which has saved 897 abducted children as of November 2017. These are cases where the AMBER alert specifically led to the child being recovered.

A typical mobile alert displayed.  You can turn them off on Android or iPhone

Criteria for getting an Amber Alert

Once a child abduction has occurred, law enforcement officials analyze the situation to see whether the criteria for an AMBER alert are met. These are strict, both to make sure the program actually assists children in desperate need and to keep the public from becoming desensitized to too many notifications. So, if there is an AMBER alert in your area, feel confident a child is in actual need of you and your neighbors’ immediate help. There are five criteria for issuing an alert:

• The child is under 17 years of age.
• There has been an abduction.
• The child is in immediate danger of death or serious injury.
• Enough information about the abductor is known so there is a likelihood he or she could be identified by community members.
• The child’s information has been entered into the National Crime Information Center system with a Child Abduction Flag.

Broadcasting the Alert

Once officials have determined that an AMBER alert is appropriate in a particular case, all possible measures are immediately taken to ensure people are aware of the situation. The pertinent information is sent out over television, radio, internet, electronic billboards, and wireless devices such as cell phones.  Some electric road signs over freeways also display Amber Alerts and list vehicle(s) to look out for.

AMBER alerts are often a bit cryptic similar to a ‘Tweet’ on Twitter


Important details are provided such as the age, size, and a description of the child as well as all known information about the abductor. This information often includes a description of any vehicle the child might be traveling in as well. These notices are sent out in the location or locations where the child was abducted and where it is expected the abductor may take the child. Typically, these are repeated on a regular basis until the child has been located. There are stories where the abductor hears the AMBER alert and releases the child because they realize they can be recognized by people in the communities where they are attempting to blend in.

If a child is abducted, speed is absolutely critical in getting the AMBER alert out to the public as soon as possible. Parents or guardians should immediately contact local law enforcement to enlist their assistance in getting an AMBER alert issued if it is appropriate. Once local law enforcement has been notified, then parents should call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST. These people then guide the parents to other resources available to help recover the child as quickly as possible.

Obviously, child abduction is a terrible thing for the child, the parents, and society as a whole. Even one child taken is too many, but in fact approximately 800,000 children are taken away from their legal guardians every year. AMBER alerts really make but a small dent in this situation, but they address the most problematic abductions and have a fairly good success rate. Although the alerts may seem annoying or unrelated to your life, please be aware of the information provided and keep your eyes open for the child or the abductor.

Your attention CAN save a life.

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