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The AMBER Alert Program

The AMBER Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, and transportation agencies to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. Once law enforcement has determined that a child has been abducted and the abduction meets AMBER Alert criteria, law enforcement notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials. Broadcasters use the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to air a description of the abducted child and suspected abductor. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of the child.

AMBER stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response,” but the program is named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who on January 13, 1996, was abducted while riding her bicycle near her home in Arlington, Texas. A neighbor heard her scream and saw a man pull her off her bike, throw her into the front seat of his pickup truck and drive away. Local radio and television stations covered the story. However, four days later Amber’s body was found in a drainage ditch four miles away. Her kidnapping and murder still remain unsolved.

After this tragedy, a Dallas area resident suggested that media broadcast special “alerts” in the wake of an abduction to help prevent something like this from happening in the future. The current network of 120 AMBER Alert plans across the country grew out of this idea. Since the program began AMBER Alerts have been credited with the safe recovery of 542 children nationwide.

In 2003, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee the AMBER Alert program designating the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs as National AMBER Coordinator.

Under the direction of the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is responsible for distributing AMBER Alerts to a network of secondary distributors. These are companies, businesses, or organizations that have the capability to deliver geographically targeted messages to their customers and have a signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NCMEC.

Once law enforcement notifies NCMEC that an AMBER Alert has been issued, it is entered into a secure system and transmitted to authorized secondary distributors. It is through this system that will make AMBER Alerts available to its subscribers.

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