What is an Amber Alert?

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Most of us, in one shape or another, follow the news.  Whether that is via a newspaper, an app, your favorite websites, the radio on your morning drive, or from television news broadcasts.  And each time we hear the words “AMBER Alert” we cringe.  We know that another child is missing or has been taken.

What exactly is an AMBER Alert, though?  When and Why did it start?  And, lastly, how exactly do they work?

When did it start?

The AMBER Alert notification and communication system started back in 1996.  At the time, the Dallas-Fort Worth news stations and broadcasters united with the local police to develop and start the early warning system to assist in locating and rescuing abducted children.

What does it Mean? 

Many people are actually unaware that “AMBER” is actually an acronym but is also deeply rooted in a respect to all missing children by being named after an actual abducted child.

The letters in AMBER stand for America’s Missing:  Broadcast Emergency Response.  The acronym was formed with that particular name as a symbol of memorial and resoluteness in helping to find all abducted children.  The young girl, Amber Hagerman, was 9 years old and abducted while riding her bicycle in Arlington, TX and then murdered in a brutal fashion.

A Legacy

After seeing the Dallas/Fort Worth success and determination in teaming together to protect children many other states soon developed their own AMBER plans.

What Exactly is an AMBER Alert?

There are actual guidelines that need to occur.   These criteria are necessary for the AMBER Alert activation criteria.  According to www.amberalert.gov, the following are recommended guidelines for developing AMBER Alert criteria:

Confirmed Abduction via Law Enforcement

This is initial and an essential portion of the AMBER Alert system.  Police should confirm that an actual abduction has taken place.  The reason this is so essential is because it directly correlates to the second portion of criteria of determining whether there is a serious risk of death or harm.  This clearly demonstrates how the major mission of the AMBER Alert System is to combat and protect children from stranger abductions as the usually involve the most danger to the child.

Serious Harm or Death is  a Risk/Possibility

This is a very sensitive piece of criteria but it is essential.  An AMBER Alert is taken very seriously by individuals, groups and law enforcement.  As horrible as it is to consider, this must be present for an alert to be issued.  This requires accurate information and sound judgment.  Many parents at the time of abduction of their child will always consider their child to be in serious danger of harm when abducted so this criteria is determined by professionals and law enforcement.  In many cases a broadcast AMBER Alert may actually put an abducted child in more danger as the abductor may panic and try to flee.

Sufficient Description Information

For an AMBER Alert to be productive to law enforcement agencies and the recovery and safe return of the child there should be sufficient information to actually aid in finding the location and status of the adducted child.  Shady or unclear description information can actually impede an investigation and search.


AmberAlert.gov recommends that the alert criteria be any child “17 years or younger”.  Although many states have already an AMBER Alert plan policy there are varying ages in those plans.  Different ages means that some states may have an AMBER Alert situation but when state lines are crossed the neighbor state’s criteria may not trigger their plans/alerts.  If states don’t adopt the 17 or younger recommendation then they are highly encourage to at least cooperate fully with another states request.

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