AMBER Alert – What You Need to Know

AMBER Alert – What You Need to Know

Have you seen the terrifying digital billboards on the highway? Have you heard the chilling reports on the news? Have you awoken to a jarring audible notification on your phone? These are AMBER Alerts.

In this post, I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about AMBER Alerts.

From Tragedy to 868 Recoveries

In 1996, a 9-year-old girl named Amber Hagerman was abducted while riding her bicycle in front of her home in Arlington, Texas. Two days later she was found, murdered.

In response to this tragedy, Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters joined forces with the police to develop an early warning system to find abducted children. As successful recovery stories traveled across the country, other states began to implement their own systems and before long over 20 countries around the world had created similar international AMBER Alert programs.

The AMBER Alert Program is now coordinated by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) nationwide, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. While the AMBER Alert Program honors the memory of Amber Hagerman, AMBER is also a backronym for, "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response."

The AMBER Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (NCMEC)

As of February 24, 2017, the AMBER Alert Program in the United States is responsible for recovering 868 children.

The AMBER Alert logo is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Justice

The AMBER Alert logo is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Justice

AMBER Alert Activations

In order to maintain an efficient and effective system that doesn't desensitize the public to overused alerts, the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommends the following guidelines for activating an AMBER Alert.

  1. Law enforcement confirms a child has been abducted

  2. Law enforcement believes the child's in imminent danger of bodily injury or death

  3. Sufficient descriptive information exists to recover the child:

    • Name and description of the abducted child

    • Name and description of the suspect

    • Description of suspect's vehicle:

      • Make

      • Model

      • Color

      • License plate number

  4. The child’s under 17 years of age

  5. The child’s name and other data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons File.

Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Call 911 To Report an AMBER Alert Sighting

Once law enforcement has met the criteria for activating an AMBER Alert, broadcasters and state transportation officials are notified. Alerts are broadcast on radio, TV and Department of Transportation (DOT) highway signs.

AMBER Alerts are transmitted to wireless carriers, search engines and a growing list of subscribers to the Secondary Distribution Program that are geographically targeted by state zip codes. The nonprofit organization, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (NCMEC) manages this program and also maintains official Facebook and Twitter accounts and publishes an AMBER Alert (iOS) app for real-time feeds of active alerts.

AMBER Alerts on Mobile


The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) program distributes free notifications from federal, state, local and tribal government agencies that alert customers with capable devices of the following:

  1. Alerts issued by the President

  2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life

  3. Amber Alerts

These alerts have a unique sound that conveys the message's urgency in up to 90 characters and usually includes the following information:

  • Last-seen location

  • Description of suspect's vehicle

  • License plate number

AMBER Alerts on iOS

Don't have an iOS device? Read about AMBER Alerts on Android.

Governments alerts, including AMBER Alerts, are designed to prevent injury and save lives. Therefore, they bypass Do Not Disturb settings on iOS.

AMBER Alerts can be intrusive and disrupting, but consider keeping them enabled as an obligation to your community. Law enforcement requires the public's assistance to locate missing children and by disabling the alert, you're reducing the probability of success. The more who participate, the wider the reach. The setting is enabled by default, but if you've already disabled the alert – you can reenable it by doing the following:

  1. Tap Settings

  2. Tap Notifications

  3. Scroll to the bottom

  4. Under Government Alerts, toggle AMBER Alerts on to reenable.

Steps to Follow if Your Child's Missing


The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children® (NCMEC) outlines the following steps to take if your child's missing:

  1. Call your local law enforcement agency

  2. Call the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)

  3. If your child's missing from home, search the following:

    • Closets

    • Piles of laundry

    • In and under beds

    • Inside large appliances

    • Vehicles (including trunks)

    • Anywhere else a child can crawl or hide

  4. If your child cannot be found at a store, do the following:

    • Notify the store manager or security

    • Ask to have the Code Adam alert activated if the store's a participant

    • Call your local law enforcement agency

  5. When contacting law enforcement, the NCMEC recommends having the following information prepared:

    • Child’s name

    • Date of birth

    • Height

    • Weight

    • Unique identifiers (eyeglasses, braces, etc.)
      When you noticed your child was missing

    • What your child was wearing when he/she went missing

Request law enforcement authorities immediately enter your child’s name and identifying information into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Persons File.

Before Emergencies Strike – Be Prepared!

AMBER Alert Awareness Day (January 13) honors the day 9 year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted in front of her home. In recognition of this day, Smart911 encourages parents to do the following to keep their children safe:

  1. Determine a password with your children. If you ever need to send someone to pick them up or when an emergency happens, they can ask that person for the password to ensure it is safe to go with them.

  2. Be aware of how much information about your child is available. Do not add their names to backpacks or post information about them, including name, address or school on social media websites which can be viewed publicly.

  3. Create a free, private and secure Safety Profile for your household at, which can include current photos and physical descriptions of your children. If a child goes missing and a family member calls 9-1-1, their Safety Profile will be displayed to the dispatcher allowing them to share the child’s photo and description to responders in the field immediately.


You just learned about the AMBER Alert Program –– how it started, the DOJ's guidelines for activating alerts and how it functions on mobile devices. You also learned how ti report a sighting, report a missing child and how to prepare before emergencies strike with Smart911.

To learn more about the AMBER Alert Program, visit the Department of Justice's Amber Alert website. To help find missing children and fund critical outreach and prevention programs, donate to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC).

What do you think about an enhanced 911 service like Smart911? Do you have a Smart911 Safety Profile? Answer in the Comments below.

AMBER Alert – What You Need to Know first appeared on the Culture Gaps Blog by Jeff Shibasaki.


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Jeff Shibasaki blogs about effective communication skills for the USA at Culture Gaps and healthy web design for unhealthy websites at Bento Sites.