An amber alert (also AMBER alert) or a child abduction emergency alert (SAME code: CAE) is a message distributed by a child abduction alert system to ask the public for help in finding abducted children.
Amber Rene Hagerman (November 25, 1986–January 15, 1996) was a young girl abducted while riding her bike with her brother in Arlington, Texas. A neighbor who witnessed the abduction called the police, and Amber's brother, Ricky, went home to tell his mother and grandparents what happened. On hearing the news, Hagerman's father, Richard, called Marc Klaas, whose daughter, Polly, had been abducted and murdered in Petaluma, California, on October 1, 1993. Richard, and Amber's mother, Donna Whitson (now Donna Norris), called the news media and the FBI. They and their neighbors began searching for Amber.
Following the automation of the AMBER Alert with ANS technology created by the Child Alert Foundation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) expanded its role in 2002 to promote the AMBER Alert, although in 1996 now CEO of the NCMEC declined to come in and further assist the AMBER Alert when asked to by Bruce Seybert and Richard Hagerman and has since worked actively to see alerts distributed using the nation's existing emergency radio and TV response network.
In October 2000, the United States House of Representatives adopted H.Res. 605 which encouraged communities nationwide to implement the AMBER Plan. In October 2001, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that had declined to be a part of the Amber Alert in February 1996, launched a campaign to have AMBER Alert systems established nationwide. In February 2002, the Federal Communications Commission officially endorsed the system. In 2002, several children were abducted in cases that drew national attention. One such case, the kidnapping and murder of Samantha Runnion, prompted California to establish an AMBER Alert system on July 24, 2002. According to Senator Dianne Feinstein, in its first month California issued 13 AMBER alerts; 12 of the children were recovered safely and the remaining alert was found to be a misunderstanding.
Whitson testified in front of the U.S. Congress in June 1996, asking legislators to create a nationwide registry of sex offenders. Representative Martin Frost, the Congressman who represents Whitson's district, proposed an "Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act." Among the sections of the bill was one that would create a national sex offender registry.
In July 1996, Bruce Seybert (whose own daughter was a close friend of Amber) and Richard Hagerman attended a media symposium in Arlington. Although Hagerman had remarks prepared, on the day of the event the organizers asked Seybert to speak instead. In his 20-minute speech, he spoke about efforts that local police could take quickly to help find missing children and how the media could facilitate those efforts. C.J. Wheeler, a reporter from radio station KRLD, approached the Dallas police chief shortly afterward with Seybert's ideas and launched the first ever Amber Alert.
For the next two years, alerts were made manually to participating radio stations. In 1998, the Child Alert Foundation created the first fully automated Alert Notification System (ANS) to notify surrounding communities when a child was reported missing or abducted. Alerts were sent to radio stations as originally requested but included television stations, surrounding law enforcement agencies, newspapers and local support organizations. These alerts were sent all at once via pagers, faxes, emails, and cell phones with the information immediately posted on the Internet for the general public to view.
By September 2002, 26 states had established AMBER Alert systems that covered all or parts of the state. A bipartisan group of US Senators, led by Kay Bailey Hutchison and Dianne Feinstein, proposed legislation to name an AMBER Alert coordinator in the U.S. Justice Department who could help coordinate state efforts. The bill also provided $25 million in federal matching grants for states to establish AMBER Alert programs and necessary equipment purchases, such as electronic highway signs. A similar bill was sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Jennifer Dunn and Martin Frost. The bill passed the Senate unanimously within a week of its proposal. At an October 2002 conference on missing, exploited, and runaway children, President George W. Bush announced changes to the AMBER Alert system, including the development of a national standard for issuing AMBER Alerts. A similar bill passed the House several weeks later on a 390–24 vote. A related bill finally became law in April 2003.
Many states have policies in place that limit the use of AMBER alerts on freeway signs. In Los Angeles, an AMBER alert issued in October 2002 that was displayed on area freeway signs caused significant traffic congestion. As a result, the California Highway Patrol elected not to display the alerts during rush hour, citing safety concerns. The state of Wisconsin only displays AMBER alerts on freeway signs if it is deemed appropriate by the transportation department and a public safety agency. AMBER alerts do not preempt messages related to traffic safety.
The alerts were offered digitally beginning in November 2002, when America Online began a service allowing people sign up to receive notification via computer, pager, or cell phone. Users of the service enter their ZIP Code, thus allowing the alerts to be targeted to specific geographic regions.
On April 1, 2007, the AMBER Alert system became active in Northwest England. An implementation across the rest of Britain was planned at that time. This was realized on May 25, 2010 with the nationwide launch of the Child Rescue Alert, based on the AMBER Alert system. The first system in the UK of this kind was created in Sussex on November 14, 2002. This was followed by versions in Surrey and Hampshire. By 2005, every local jurisdiction in England and Wales had its own form of alert system. The system was first used in the UK on October 3, 2012, with regard to missing 5 year-old April Jones in Wales.
Canada's system began in December 2002, when Alberta launched the first province-wide system. At the time, Alberta Solicitor-General Heather Forsyth said "We anticipate an Amber Alert will only be issued once a year in Alberta. We hope we never have to use it, but if a child is abducted Amber Alert is another tool police can use to find them and help them bring the child home safely." The Alberta government committed to spending more than CA$1 million to expanding the province's emergency warning system so that it could be used effectively for Amber Alerts. Other Canadian provinces soon adopted the system, and by May 2004, Saskatchewan was the only province that had not established an Amber Alert system. Within the next year, the program was in use throughout the country.
The program was introduced in Quebec on May 26, 2003. The name AMBER alert was then adapted in French to Alerte Médiatique But Enfant Recherché, which directly translates as "Media Alert for Child Recovery". In order to launch an AMBER alert, police authorities need to meet 4 criteria simultaneously and with no exceptions:
A Scripps Howard study of the 233 AMBER Alerts issued in the United States in 2004 found that most issued alerts did not meet the Department of Justice's criteria. Fully 50% (117 alerts) were categorized by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as being "family abductions", very often a parent involved in a custody dispute. There were 48 alerts for children who had not been abducted at all, but were lost, ran away, involved in family misunderstandings (for example, two instances where the child was with grandparents), or as the result of hoaxes. Another 23 alerts were issued in cases where police did not know the name of the allegedly abducted child, often as the result of misunderstandings by witnesses who reported an abduction.
Seventy of the 233 AMBER Alerts issued in 2004 (30%) were actually children taken by strangers or who were unlawfully travelling with adults other than their legal guardians.
The Australian state of Queensland implemented a version of the AMBER Alerts in May 2005. Other Australian states joined Queensland in Facebook's Amber Alert program in June 2017.
In 2006, a TV movie, Amber's Story, was broadcast on Lifetime. It starred Elisabeth Röhm and Sophie Hough.
In February 2006, France's Justice ministry launched an apparatus based on the AMBER alerts named Alerte-Enlèvement [fr] (abduction alert) or Dispositif Alerte-Enlèvement [fr] (abduction alert apparatus) with the help of most media and railroad and motorway companies.
The United States Postal Service issued a postage stamp commemorating AMBER Alerts in May 2006. The 39-cent stamp features a chalk pastel drawing by artist Vivienne Flesher of a reunited mother and child, with the text "AMBER ALERT saves missing children" across the pane. The stamp was released as part of the observance of National Missing Children's Day.
In September 2007, Malaysia implemented the Nurin Alert. Based on the AMBER alert, it is named for a missing eight-year-old girl, Nurin Jazlin.
The Dutch AMBER Alert was launched in 2008 by the Dutch National Police, the Dutch minister of Justice at the time, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, and social enterprise Netpresenter. On February 14, 2009, the first Dutch AMBER Alert was issued when a 4-year-old boy went missing in Rotterdam. He was found safe and sound after being recognized by a person who saw his picture on an electronic billboard in a fast food restaurant. He was recovered so quickly, that the transmission of the AMBER Alert was halted before all recipients received it. Since 2008, the AMBER Alert system has been deployed for 27 AMBER Alerts and almost 1000 Missing Child Alerts.
A comic book entitled Amber Hagerman Deserves Justice: A Night Owl Story was published by Wham Bang Comics in 2009. Geared toward a young audience by teen author Jake Tinsley and Manga artist Jason Dube, it tells Amber's story, recounts the investigation into her murder, and touches on the effect her death has had on young children and parents everywhere. It was created to promote what was then a reopened investigation into her murder.
In April 2009, it was announced that an AMBER Alert system would be set up in Ireland, In May 2012, the Child Rescue Ireland (CRI) Alert was officially introduced. Ireland's first AMBER alert was issued upon the disappearance of two boys, Eoghan (10) and Ruarí Chada (5).
Mexico joined international efforts to spread the use of the AMBER alert at an official launch ceremony on April 28, 2011.
Many law enforcement agencies have not used #2 as a criterion, resulting in many parental abductions triggering an Amber Alert, where the child is not known or assumed to be at risk of serious injury or death. In 2013, West Virginia passed Skylar's Law to eliminate #1 as a criterion for triggering an Amber Alert.
The first cross-border AMBER Alert was issued in the early morning of May 8, 2013 for two Dutch brothers. The boys' photo was displayed on large screens in the Belgian province of Limbourg and in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) and has received extensive media attention in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The bodies of the children were found on May 19, 2013 near Cothen (the Netherlands).
The 4 a.m. timing of a July 2013 New York child abduction alert sent through the Wireless Emergency Alerts system raised concerns that many cellphone users will now disable WEA alerts.
In 2014, AMBER Alert Europe launched the Police Expert Network on Missing Children. Goal of the network is to allow missing children police experts to quickly and informally contact their colleagues in other European member states and exchange best practices.
Since April 2015 an emergency child abduction alert system "AMBER Alert Slovakia" is also available in Slovak Republic. www.amberalert.sk
In 2018, Ecuador's Department of Security introduced its own AMBER Alert called EMILIA Alert, named after the abducted girl Emilia Benavides in December 2017.
Amber Alerts may also be distributed via the Alert Ready emergency alert system, which disrupts programming on all radio, television stations, and television providers in the relevant region to display and play audio of Amber Alert information. In 2018, Alert Ready introduced alerts on supported mobile devices. When an alert is broadcast, a distinct sound is played and a link to find more information is displayed onscreen. Currently, there is no way to deactivate Amber Alerts on mobile devices in Canada, even if the device is in silent and/or Do Not Disturb modes, which has provoked controversy. These series of multiple blaring alarms going off in the middle of the night have caused residents to complain, often by calling 911. However, there are legitimate concerns that hearing repeated alarms will cause Canadians to ignore the alarm when the system is used to warn of life-threatening emergencies.