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AMBER Alerts

AMBER Alerts


America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) is an emergency child abduction alert system that disseminates information on suspected child abduction. The system disseminates the information quickly to the general public in order to solicit their help in recovering the child or children abducted. Additionally, the information is disseminated to a large number of people when it is sent by communication channels, such as the television, radio, social media platforms, websites, billboards and newspapers. For this reason, the chance of finding the abducted child is high as the information on the abduction is passed to as many people as possible. However, such fact can also endanger the life of the abducted child as will be discussed later in the paper.


Child abduction is one of the scariest crimes against children in the United States and other countries of the world. Children tend to have much trust due to their young age, a factor that makes it easy for abductors to commit their crimes of kidnapping the children from their families. In addition, it should be realized that some of such abducted children experience negative treatment from their abductors, such as rape, child pornography and even murder. That is why the AMBER alert was commissioned to solicit the help of the general public in finding an abducted child before something horrible happens to them. Current research paper analyzes the AMBER alert system focusing on its background, implementation, and effects. It will also feature some success examples of the alert system usage.


Moore (2009) affirms that AMBER alert was started in honor of a young girl Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped in 1996 and murdered by her abductor in Arlington, Texas. Her abduction and murder resulted in outrage in the community where the 9 year old lived with her parents. Following the loss of their daughter, Amber’s parents pushed for Texas law makers to start a program that can be used to prevent such crimes from occurring in the future. The proposed program was to work in tandem with the Emergency Alert system (EAS), and it officially became the AMBER Alert. Holder, Leary, and Hanes (2012) affirm the role of the federal government in the AMBER alert program became conspicous in 2003 when President George W. Bush signed the Protect Act into law. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (2012) indicates that the law also granted a $20 million portion for states to enhance their notification systems for improved performance of the AMBER alert program.

The Criteria for Issuing Alerts and Who Handles the Requests

The implementation of AMBER alert requires a given criteria to be followed. It is critical to prevent false alarms. Miller, Griffin, Clinkinbeard, and Thomas (2009) reiterate that such criteria are uniformly applied in all places using the alert program. False AMBER alerts tend to reduce the effectiveness of the program. Before issuing an AMBER alert, law enforcers institute the following measures:

  • The first significant criterion is to ensure that the reported abduction has truly taken place;
  • Fantz (2013) points out that the abducted child is under the age of 18 years;
  • It must be confirmed if the child is at risk of harm or death;
  • Law enforcers must receive descriptive information on the child, the captor and the vehicle used by the abductor.

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Holder, Leary, and Hanes (2012) hold that members of the law enforcement handle requests relating to Amber alerts in cases of missing children. Accordingly, in issuing the Amber alert, law enforcers work in tandem with broadcasters and state transportation officials to ensure the missing child is reported and located easily.

The Effects of the AMBER Alert System

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (2012) opines that since its inception in 1996, the AMBER alert has had an impact on the safety of children. Cases of child abduction have reduced drastically over the years and the recovery of children that have been abducted has increased its effectiveness. It can, therefore, be concluded that the results of the AMBER alert have been positive, showing how effective the alert system has been. However, the negative outcome of implementing the AMBER alert should not be ignored. The factors promoting and undermining the effectiveness of the alert system are discussed below.

Firstly, the need to work towards the achievement of one main goal of recovering an abducted child has led to cooperation among groups who initially did not collaborated with one another. For example, Holder, Leary, and Hanes (2012) hold that the AMBER alert system brings together law enforcers and the media. Once law enforcers have received the details of the abduction, they pass the information to the media to broadcast to the general public.

In addition, the advancement in technology has improved the functioning of the AMBER alert system. Technology has caused the alert system to be faster in disseminating information of a suspected abduction. Moore (2009) is of the view that the use of wireless alert technology has been the contributing factor for the increased speed of information distribution. It is very significant since the first three hours of abduction represent the most hopeful timeframe for recovery of a child. The U.S. Department of Justice and the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) have been working together with wireless carriers to send out notifications of abductions.

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The use of AMBER alert has contributed to the safe return of children. One way of doing it is by making perpetrators of child abduction nervous. Consequently, some of them tend to release the child once they became aware that an AMBER alert has been used to prevent the abduction. However, it is critical to note that not all abductors react in the same way. Some may kill the child due to panic. Such reaction can be considered as a negative outcome of the abduction notification system.

Another negative outcome of the AMBER alert system is that the abductor may choose to take the child out of the jurisdiction of the law enforcers issuing the alert. Holder, Leary, and Hanes (2012) is of the opinion that the law enforcement authority could overcome such problem by requesting an extension of the AMBER alert in another territory to increase the chances of recovering the abducted child. According to Fantz (2013), it was made official in 2011 when AMBER alerts were allowed to extend beyond the states where they were issued.

Problems in communication have been another barrier to the effectiveness of the AMBER alert system. Despite the improved relationship between the law enforcers and the media, complete trust has not been achieved between them. Consequently, the communication process has also been affected.

Success Stories

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (2012) opines that success stories in current context entail documented cases of abduction where children who become victims of kidnapping were recovered and safely returned to their parents or guardians. The AMBER alert system has been successful in the recovery of abducted children. The NCMEC, which documents such success stories, attributes positive outcomes of investigations to the AMBER alert system. Some of such stories are described below.

Fantz (2013) observes that between 1996 and 2013, 656 abducted children have been rescued as a result of citizens responding to the AMBER alert according to NCMEC. Determining the exact statistics of success stories has been difficult due to the fact that some reports of abduction were hoaxed, while the investigations in some cases of abduction are still ongoing.

One significant success story is that of Hannah Anderson. Fantz (2013) explains that at 16 years, the teenager had been kidnapped in the summer of 2013 by a man with a violent past going by the name James DiMaggio. Investigators in the case used AMBER alerts to find traces, which could eventually lead to finding the teenager. Fantz (2013) continues that announcing about the authorities searching for a 16 year old girl was sent out in all media outlets and other communication devices. The chase moved from Nevada, Oregon and ended in Idaho. Horse riders discovered DiMaggio camping with Hannah in the wilderness in Idaho. They became suspicious of DiMaggio and the suspicion was confirmed when they saw an AMBER alert regarding Hannah after reaching home. They notified the authorities immediately. Hannah was safely rescued, while DiMaggio died in a confrontation with the police.

Another touching success story is that of a little girl who disappeared in the middle of the night in Texas, February 2015. The person responsible for the abduction was a man who had stayed with the family for some time. With the knowledge of the family, the man used his van to run away with the girl. After realizing that the girl was missing, the family reported the abduction to the police who activated an AMBER alert describing the girl, her abductor, and the van. A clerk at a petrol station recognized the van from the AMBER alert and reported it to the authorities. As a result, the police were able to apprehend the man and rescue the little girl.

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In conclusion, the AMBER alert program has played an instrumental role in facilitating child abduction missions since its adoption. The high number of success in the rescue missions explains its effectiveness in dealing with child abduction cases. Notably, it assists greatly in the safe return of children who have been abducted. However, it is necessary to have an implementation plan, which will determine the activation of the alert system. Such criterion is essential to prevent false cases, leading to decreased interest of the public in the AMBER alert system. It is important to identify the factors that determine the success and failure of the system in order to determine its effectiveness.

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The analysis of the AMBER alert program has reflected some areas that need improvement. The following recommendations have been formulated for future actions.

In the views of Miller, Griffin, Clinkinbeard, and Thomas (2009), the first recommendation for improvement of the AMBER alert system is to restrict the number of alerts. The significance of such reduction is the prevention of the AMBER alerts from becoming ineffective and also reducing the number of false reports.

It is recommended that the designers of the alert system should consider the cognitive aspects of mind to increase the effectiveness of AMBER alert. Miller, Griffin, Clinkinbeard, and Thomas (2009) point out that all details on the suspected abduction must be presented in a clear manner to make it easy to remember.

Finally, it is recommended that further research should be conducted on the AMBER alert system to find more ways of improving it. An improved AMBER alert means more abducted children recovered.