Baby and Child Safety: History of the AMBER Alert System
Posted March 6, 2015 by Jaclyn Hill | Follow Jaclyn Hill on Google+
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Filed Under Parenting Resources
Baby and Child Safety: History of the AMBER Alert System

According to the most recent National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File, of the 621,911 filed missing-person cases in 2013, 462,567 were younger than 18. By the end of that year, there were more than 84,000 active cases of all ages remaining. Of these active cases, roughly 40 percent were juveniles. This is a staggering number that highlights the need to both protect children and to find better ways of recovering them when they go missing. All children are potential victims, whether they are a child in grade school, a teenager, or even a newborn baby. When a child is abducted, it is a harrowing experience for families and for the victim of the crime. The number one goal is to have the child found safe and free of any harm or injury. While only a small percentage of abducted children are murdered, there is no way that a parent can be certain that this will not be the outcome for their child. Because most murders of abducted children happen within three hours of the kidnapping, every effort must be made to hasten the child's recovery. The AMBER Alert system is a national system that alerts the public when a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger. It has been helpful in solving hundreds of cases since its inception.

Who is the AMBER Alert System Based On?

While the AMBER of the AMBER Alert system is an acronym for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response," it was also created as a form of remembrance of the child whose abduction would lead to its eventual formation, Amber Hagerman. In January 1996, 9-year-old Amber was riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, when witnesses say she was forced into a pickup truck by a stranger. She was found murdered four days later, although police believe she was alive for the first two days of her abduction. Amber's murder led to questions regarding the lack of a public alert system for such cases.

How Was the AMBER Alert System Founded?

The first mention of a need for a public alert system came from a listener of an Arlington radio station on January 27, 1996. Following Amber's murder, radio stations were overwhelmed with callers voicing opinions, ideas, and recommendations on how to prevent future abductions and deaths of young children. One of these listeners, a mother named Diana Simone, called and also sent a letter to the station with the idea that the Emergency Alert System could be used for alerting the community about potential child abductions. As a result of her suggestion, area radio broadcasters discussed the potential of such a system with Arlington's law enforcement. This led to a collaboration between the two and the forming of the Amber Plan in 1997. Success came with the issuance of the Amber Plan's second alert, which occurred in 1998. As a result of the national exposure from this case, law enforcement's interest in the system began to spread across the country. A year later, Oklahoma became the first state to establish a plan that encompassed the entire state, not only certain cities. Promotion of the AMBER program increased significantly with the involvement of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2000. Three years later, on April 30, President George W. Bush signed into law an act that would create a national AMBER Alert system. The act was the Protect Act, and the national system would be overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice.

How AMBER Alert Works

An AMBER Alert may work differently from one state to another. The U.S. Department of Justice offers recommended guidelines that can streamline the process and reduce the risk of delays in finding missing children nationwide. According to these guidelines, the abduction of a child, who may range from a newborn to 17 years old, should be reported to law enforcement, who must confirm an actual abduction has taken place. In some states, the maximum age may be younger than 17. Confirmation is based on evidence and using what is called the best evidence approach. The missing child should be in serious danger that could lead to severe physical injury or even death. Sufficient information in the form of child and abductor descriptions, vehicles, etc., must also be gathered before an alert can be issued. Once police issue an alert, there are several things that must be done. They must enter it into the NCIC system and notify the media so that it may be broadcast on both radio and television. Transportation officials are notified, and highway signs then announce the alert to drivers. Alerts may also be announced on cellphones, the Internet, and even at lottery ticket kiosks.

How Has AMBER Alert Been Helpful?

The AMBER Alert system has been very helpful in finding children across the country. Because it is in all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, it allows law enforcement agencies from these areas to join in the effort to locate abducted children. The DOJ notes that more than 700 children nationwide have been found as a result of AMBER Alerts. In addition, the issuance of an AMBER Alert has in several cases resulted in the release of children by their abductors. In these instances, AMBER Alerts have been helpful in instilling the fear of being caught into individuals who have stolen a baby or child.