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January 15, 2024

What to Do if You Get an Amber Alert

What to Do if You Get an Amber Alert

Sometimes out of a tragedy something good can be salvaged. The AMBER Alert System began from such a tragedy when in 1996, a nine-year-old girl by the name of Amber Hagerman was riding her bicycle in her neighborhood in Arlington, Texas. She was kidnapped and murdered.

The Broadcast Emergency Response was created in Texas, and soon thereafter, other states and communities adopted the AMBER plan. The AMBER Alert now stretches across the nation.

How does an AMBER Alert work?

The AMBER Alert begins when law enforcement has been notified of a child abduction. If the reported abduction meets certain criteria, broadcasters, and state transportation officials are notified. It began on radio and television broadcasting. A program was interrupted with the AMBER Alert announcing the public of a missing child. Today, AMBER Alerts are seen on highway signs, wireless devices such as mobile phones, and on the internet.

Wireless Emergency Alerts

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are emergency messages sent by authorized government agencies alerting authorities of a missing or abducted child through mobile carriers. In turn, AMBER Alerts are dispatched to the public’s mobile devices in the community and geographic area where the child is reported missing.

Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) Tips

  • ✔ If you find a lost child or know information regarding the whereabouts of the missing child, follow the action advised by the alert. The message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no longer than 360 characters.
  • ✔ WEAs have a unique tone and vibration, both repeated twice. WEA messages are free.
  • ✔ Wireless providers are selling devices with WEA capability included. Contact your phone provider to find out how to activate your phone to receive WEAs.
  • ✔ If you are on a phone call when a WEA is sent in your area, the message will be delayed until you finish your call.
  • ✔ WEAs do not track your location and are not affected by network congestion.

What are the reasons an AMBER Alert is issued?

Each state has its own criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts. In 2003, the PROTECT Act was passed which created the AMBER Alert Coordinator role in the Department of Justice. This role creates and issues minimum standards that each state can voluntarily adopt and use.

The Department of Justice has provided the following guidance on the criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts:1

  • Law enforcement must confirm an abduction has taken place.
  • The child is at risk of serious injury or death.
  • There is sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor’s vehicle to issue an Alert.
  • The child must be 17 years old or younger.
  • It is recommended that immediate entry of AMBER Alert data be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

Child Abduction Response Teams – CART

AMBER Alert is only one method law enforcement uses to help find a missing child. The Department of Justice launched a program to train Child Abduction Response Teams (CART) nationwide to assist local law enforcement in incidents of missing and abducted children. Regional law enforcement investigators, forensic experts, AMBER Alert coordinators, search and rescue professionals, policy makers, crime intelligence analysts, victim service providers, and other interagency resources make up the teams involved in finding missing or abducted children.

Who do you call for a missing or abducted child?

Call your local police station or 911. Immediately report the child as missing. Ask police investigators to enter the child’s name into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons file. There is no waiting period for entry into the NCIC for children under the age of 18.2

AMBER Alert Today

The AMBER Alert system is now being used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in 31 international countries.

As of January 2, 2023, 1,127 children were successfully recovered through the AMBER Alert system and 131 children were rescued because of the wireless emergency alerts.3

What is a Child Safe Kit?

A child safe kit is a place to record and save vital information about your child including height and weight, hair color and style, blood type, and fingerprints. This information is readily available to hand over to law enforcement in the event of a missing child.


  1. Department of Justice https://www.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh241/files/media/document/amberfaq.pdf, accessed 2023.
  2. Department of Justice https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh176/files/pubs/childismissing/introck.html, accessed 2023.
  3. Department of Justice https://amberalert.ojp.gov/, accessed2023.

Categories: Child Safety Ages 4-11 / Infant/Toddler Safety/ Safety Tips / Preadolescentes / Tweens/Teen Safety

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