In NJ today cellphone users received an alert purporting to be an Amber Alert from Pennsylvania. While the area of Lancaster Pennsylvania is close to parts of NJ, it is very far from where I live. I received one of these Alerts this morning, too.
Why should anyone complain about receiving an Amber Alert? Does it mean that they are evil or anti-child?
No. It tells you that something is very wrong. Amber Alerts shouldn't be sent far and wide.
Before you jump to any conclusions, let me explain how Amber Alert is supposed to work. Named for a little girl who was abducted in Texas and later murdered, it is designed to get people in the immediate vicinity of an abduction that meets certain criteria to keep an eye out.
This is crucial, because of the children who were later found murdered, 74% were murdered within the first 4 hours, And more than 90% of those later found murdered were murdered within the first 24 hours.
But, Amber Alerts don't apply to every missing child. Nor should they. The more alerts we receive, the more immune we become to them. They were designed to apply only when the description of the vehicle, abductor or children is available, so that we can look for something specific. These are short bursts, and designed ot get our immediate attention for the next few hours. They come down after a couple days, since the value of eyewitnesses becomes reduced when the vehicle may change, the child may be redressed or their hair color changed and the abductor joined by accomplices or the child is passed off.
1. the quick need for your attention,
2. for identifying a vehicle, abductor or child using solid and reliable details,
3. likely to be in your close vicinity (based on the best information the authorities have), and
4. removed when it is no longer emergent.
While TV networks and radio networks who are part of the Amber Alert network broadcast this information widely to its regional viewers, normally the mobile providers require that a subscriber opt-in to receive the alerts on their phone.
Following the pilot my husband and I developed with Facebook for Canada, Facebook users can fan an official Amber Alert page for their province (Amber Alerts are administered by state and local authorities, not the federal authorities) and receive local alerts.
The challenge is always getting the right people to pay attention at the right time to clear information and know what to do with it. All eyes on the child for a short period of time.
Too many alerts cause many people to ignore them, or delete them. That isn't good. Keeping them up longer than they should be, so that we don't bother looking at them anymore or keep looking when they are wasting their time is counter-productive.
And alerts that aren't requested or expected, that intrude on the lives and cellphone accounts of people outside of the alert range hurt the program and don't help this child or future abductions.
So, why did we all receive an alert today? was it a mistake? a scam? a security breach? or a new policy we didn't know about?