What Exactly is an Amber Alert and How Effective Is It?

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The AMBER Alert is an emergency alert system that stands for ‘America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response’ founded by the U.S. Department of Justice. The program partners with law enforcement agencies and broadcast stations in search of missing children. The goal is to immediately involve the public, especially motorists in the search for an abducted child.

AMBER alert was founded in 1996 when a little girl from Arlington, Texas, 9-year old Amber Hagerman, was abducted and murdered. She had been riding her bike at her grandparent’s house. Many believe that if an AMBER alert had been in place, she may have lived.


  • As of April 2019, there have been 957 children rescued specifically because of AMBER Alerts.
  • As of April 2018, 56 children were rescued because of Wireless Emergency Alerts
  • As of March 2019, there are 83 AMBER plans through the United States.

States have slight variations in the agreed age for AMBER alert program. For example, the Silver alert systems are for missing senior adults is 65 and up. The official age for an alert for missing children to qualify for an AMBER alert is under 17 years of age.

Since the founding of this program, notifications involve the public in the search for abducted children. It has been incorporated into many countries such as Mexico, Canada, Australia, UK, Ireland, Malaysia, France, Netherlands, Ecuador, Slovak Republic. All these have either implemented the AMBER alert system or a system similar to it.

So, the question is how do authorities know when to conduct an alert and when not to.

Department of Justice Criteria for Child Abduction Alert

  • There is a reason to believe via law enforcement that a child has been abducted.
  • The law enforcement agency believes that the abducted child could be in harm bodily injury or death.
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The child is 17 years or younger.
  • The child’s name and other critical elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

If You See a Missing Person Described in an Amber Alert:

If you think you have spotted someone fitting the description of the missing person or missing children described in the AMBER alert system, this is what you can do to help.

  • Immediately call the number given in the AMBER alert.
  • Immediately call 9-1-1
  • Give as much information as possible (describe the vehicle, abductors, location, etc.)
  • Try and follow the vehicle as far as you can

Although AMBER alerts may be quite annoying at times, they can definitely save a life. There have been numerous cases where authorities were able to save young children because people recognized the car or the person from the alert.

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