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AMBER Alerts

The AMBER Alert system is intended to quickly and widely disseminate information about child abductions. AMBER is an acronym for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." The system uses various media outlets, including television and radio, to inform the general public about recent abductions. Below, you’ll find information about how the AMBER Alert system was formed and how the alerts work.

Formation of the AMBER Alert System

The system takes its name from 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996. Amber’s parents quickly reported the abduction to authorities and the media, but their efforts were to no avail. The girl’s body was found in a drainage ditch four days after the abduction. The Hagermans subsequently pushed Texas legislators to create the system that would become AMBER Alerts. Other states soon developed their own AMBER Alert systems as well.

On April 30, 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the PROTECT Act, which established the federal government's role in the AMBER Alert system. The law appropriated $20 million for the National AMBER Alert Network for grants to the states for the development or enhancement of notification systems. Every state now has an AMBER Alert system. According to the Department of Justice, 71 children were recovered in 2004 due to the alerts.

How AMBER Alerts Work

In order to avoid false alarms, the U.S. Department of Justice has developed a set of criteria to which states typically adhere. Before issuing an AMBER alert, the following criteria should be established:

  • Law enforcement confirms that an abduction has occurred;
  • The child is 17 years old or younger;
  • The child is at risk of serious injury or death; and
  • There’s enough descriptive information about the child, the captor, or the captor’s vehicle to issue an alert.

 Once the criteria have been established, authorities issue an AMBER Alert, which typically includes descriptive information about the child, his or her captor, and the vehicle used in the abduction. Photographs of the child are also included if available. The alert is then distributed via billboards, radio stations, text messages, television and cable stations, websites, e-mail, and other modes. Anyone with information pertaining to the abduction is asked to notify authorities.

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