Amber Alerts, smart phones and you

Six hundred and seventy-nine. That’s how many lives have been saved by the broadcast emergency response for America’s missing children, or more familiarly, the Amber Alert.

The Amber Alert got its name from the kidnapping of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Texas in 1996. Four days after her abduction, she was found murdered. The killer was never found, and the case remains unsolved. If the public had been more informed of the situation at hand, maybe justice would have been served long ago.

The tragedy stunned Amber’s small community, and they promptly created an emergency broadcast system that was eventually adopted nationwide under Amber’s name.

By 2005, all states had an Amber Alert system that broadcasted alerts on all radio and television stations. Alerts are also displayed via electronic billboards, email and text messages. Today, smart phones allow for the quickest public notification.
The Wireless Emergency Alert system is responsible for sending location-relevant alerts regarding extreme weather, local emergencies, national emergencies and Amber Alerts to all WEA-capable devices. Most cell phones newer than two years old will have this capability. The WEA messages appear as text messages on some phones, but make a different noise and vibration when received.

For an Amber Alert to be triggered, the abduction must be confirmed, the child must be in serious risk of injury or death, there must be a sufficient description of the child and/or description of the captor’s vehicle, and the child must be under 18 years of age. The regulations on the alerts are strict to avoid false alarms and hoaxes.

Recently, the Kansas area has received two Amber Alerts. On Feb. 18, 10-year-old Hailey Owens was abducted near her home in Springfield, Mo.

Amber Alerts are issued to citizens based on their location. Many Kansans received the Amber Alert that day, as it was issued for Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Tragically, Owens was found murdered, but she was found within hours of her abduction thanks to key eyewitness testimonies. Her abductor was charged with first-degree murder the very next day.

One week later, another Amber Alert was issued for 15-year-old Nomei Velazquez who was abducted in Texas. Kansans received this alert because of an incorrect tracking on Velazquez’s cell phone. The alert was cancelled for Kansas shortly after it was issued. She was found safe in Texas the next day, and her abductor was charged with aggravated kidnapping.

These alerts have proven to be helpful in multiple situations, warning people about dangerous weather and emergencies, local and national. Currently, there is no way to opt out of the national emergency alerts, which are issued by the president in times of national danger. It is possible to turn the other alerts off, but keep in mind that they serve a very important purpose.

Every cell phone is different, but in most cases you can turn the alerts on/off in the Settings, typically located under Notifications or Emergency Alerts.

If you receive an Amber Alert, do not disregard it. Eyewitness accounts on kidnappings are perhaps the biggest leads into the investigations. Pass the information on to others in order to keep a look out for the missing child. It could save a life.

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