Guidelines for Issuing AMBER Alerts via Your Mass Notification System

Written by Ryan Strait

Every parent fears the loss of their child, and every community leader fears such a nightmare taking place in their municipality. The AMBER AlertTM voluntary missing child notification program has been successful since its inception in helping to reunite missing and abducted children with their families. Public safety officers that utilize a mass notification system that integrates with the nation’s wireless emergency alert (WEA) system have the ability to help reunite missing children with their families by issuing AMBER Alert messages. To successfully and effectively issue AMBERT Alerts, it’s important to understand the program’s communication guidelines, which are summarized below.

Guidelines for Issuing AMBER Alerts

To successfully utilize the AMBER Alert system, be sure your communication plan includes clearly defined activation criteria. To ensure the AMBER Alert system remains successful, the following communicating criteria have been established to ensure a uniform, interoperable network of plans across the country. Since every second counts when a child goes missing, these guidelines also help to minimize the possibility of delays caused by messaging confusion or differences that may exist between jurisdictions.

Infographic: How Much Time Do You Have to Communicate in an Emergency

Ensure Law Enforcement Has Confirmed the Abduction

AMBER plan guidelines require that a law enforcement agency has confirmed an abduction prior to the issuing of any AMBER alerts. When alerts are activated before qualifying information has been obtained, it increases the risk of issuing an alert in error—a mistake that could, if repeated, ultimately weaken the efficacy of the alerting system.

Determine there is a Risk of Serious Bodily Injury or Death

AMBER plans require that a child be at risk for serious bodily harm or death before an alert may be issued. This assessment relates to the reality that stranger abductions represent the greatest danger to children. While timely, accurate information must be issued to the community to mitigate the risk of harm, it’s important to utilize the AMBER alert system in relevant, life-threatening situations.

Obtain Sufficient Descriptive Information

Alerts should be issued only when sufficient descriptive information of the missing child, the abduction, the abductor, and his/her vehicle, have been confirmed. The use of such descriptive information when issuing an alert is essential to enhancing law enforcement’s efforts to recover the missing child.

Confirm the Child’s Age

The AMBER Alert system is intended for use in recovering children age 17 or younger only. It is important to understand, however, that every state has different established age criteria associated with its AMBER plan. Since abduction recovery efforts could cross state boundaries, the overarching program guidelines mandate that every state must adopt the “17 years of age or younger” standard; or, at a minimum, agree to honor the request of any other state to issue an AMBER Alert, even if the case does not meet the responding state’s age criterion, as long as it meets the age criterion of the requesting state.

A Note About Multi-State AMBER Alerts: AMBER program guidelines allow that when an AMBER Alert is issued, and it is believed that the abductor may take the child outside the jurisdiction of the issuing law enforcement agency and into another state, a local AMBER Coordinator may contact the State AMBER Coordinator where the abducted child is believed to be to requests that the Alert be extended into that jurisdiction.

Enter Alert Information Immediately into the NCIC

If you issue an AMBER Alert to your community it must also immediately be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. Use of the NCIC system helps to amplify search efforts and maximize the chance of a safe recovery. The information to be entered should include a description of the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the child, and the case should be flagged as a child abduction.

Expand the Reach of Your AMBER Alerts

While the AMBER Alert program and WEA platform are powerful channels, you’ll want to leverage every resource available to help reunite families with their missing children. Using an emergency notification system that leverages the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), will allow you to send your alert message to a wide variety of subscribed citizens and national alert systems with a single step.

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