Amber Alerts

2 nights ago as I was drifting off into dream land my wife’s phone suddenly started making noise. Not just a normal “I got a facebook message” noise, but a vibrating, beeping, “I’m pretty sure the Apocalypse is right around the corner” noise. Then my phone did the same thing. “So this is how it ends”, I thought.

Well, it turns out it was actually an AMBER Alert. What is an AMBER Alert? It’s a way for law enforcement officials to alert the general public about a child abduction.

The AMBER Alert™ Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child.

It’s an amazingly simple system that provides a huge increase in the safe return of abducted children.

Amber Alerts generally contain a very short description of the issue (Child Abduction) along with the make, model, color and license plate number of the kidnapper’s car. The ultimate goal is to have members of the community be aware of the abduction and have everyone assist in the search for the missing child. If a person sees a matching vehicle, they are supposed to alert the authorities who will come investigate.

The Wireless Emergency Alerts system is a new system that sends out Amber Alerts to cell phones in the area. It was instantiated on January 1st, 2013

As of January 1, 2013, AMBER Alerts™ will now be automatically sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program to millions of cell phone users. If you have a WEA-enabled phone, you are automatically enrolled for the three alerts: President, Imminent Threat and AMBER Alerts. The addition of AMBER Alerts to this notification system is a result of a partnership between CTIA and the wireless industry, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

That was the Apocalyptic phone message that my wife and I received a few nights ago. I was a little bit surprised that this was the first time since the WEA had been implemented that we had received one via phone, but I’ll honestly say it worked. The next morning driving to work I was definitely on the lookout for the car.*

It got me thinking, though. Is it really necessary? We have Twitter and Facebook. I saw the amber alert on both of those networks not 2 minutes after I got the alert on my phone. By the morning, well over 100 of my friends on Facebook had shared information on the AMBER Alert along with hundreds of thousands of other Facebook users. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the AMBER Alert system is incredibly important and is a necessary evil in the world we live in. But with so many other forms of communication, was it really necessary to invest time and money in a system such as this? I’m not sure it was. What do you think?

  • Not just because I wanted to be the hero. But that’s like 95% of it.