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What is an Amber Alert?

By J. Beam
Updated May 23, 2024
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An AMBER Alert is part of a nationwide alert system created by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. It is designed to help expedite the recovery of abducted children by local, state, and national law enforcement. The AMBER Alert System can be traced back to 1996 when it first began in Texas as a result of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman’s kidnapping. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and pays tribute to Hagerman, who was tragically killed by her abductor.

In 2002, the AMBER Alert system became a nationally coordinated effort and is now in place in all 50 states. The system works through the coordinated efforts of local law enforcement, broadcasters, and public transportation officials. When law enforcement determines that a child has been abducted, they issue a statewide AMBER Alert, which is then broadcast over television, radio, highway signs, and even tickers over the Internet and to wireless phones. An AMBER Alert interrupts all regular broadcasting programs.

Typical information included in an AMBER Alert broadcast includes the name and complete description of the child, as well as the location from which they were abducted. If law enforcement suspects the abductor, which is common, they also provide information about them including what type of car they might be driving and license plate numbers if known. The alert provides a way for all citizens, public transportation officials and law enforcement to collectively be on the lookout for the child.

Since its inception, the AMBER Alert System has helped to recover over 200 children. Research by the Office of Justice Programs indicates that not only does the AMBER Alert assist in recovery, it also acts as a deterrent to child abductors who hear the alert and subsequently release the child before being caught. Officials are presently working together to make the AMBER Alert System a seamless, nationwide network.

The AMBER Alert is without a doubt a useful tool used to protect the children of America. Further instruction on stranger danger and safety is important information parents and educators can provide our children. As the old adage goes, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and takes the same to protect them.

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Discussion Comments

By Phaedrus — On Nov 08, 2014

@mrwormy- I go to church with a family whose daughter was found after an AMBER alert went out. The alert included the license plate number and other information about her abductor's car, and some possible destinations. The kidnapper was actually her non-custodial parent, so the police had a little more to go on than usual. I agree that the AMBER alert system by itself may not provide as much information as people might need, but in this case someone did spot the car at a rest stop on the Interstate and called it in.

I now have an app on my phone so I can receive wireless AMBER alerts whenever they're sent out. I'm on the road a lot for my job, so I feel like I can put that time to good use and keep an eye out.

By mrwormy — On Nov 07, 2014

I appreciate that the AMBER alert system exists, but I have to wonder about its effectiveness compared to other types of public broadcasts and communications. We've had several recent AMBER alerts in our area and I don't know if any of those children or their kidnappers have ever been found. It seems like people have to be in the right time and place to even see these alerts.

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