Florida Guide > Travelling
When we have been driving along the highways in Florida, and particularly around our villa in Orlando, we have often noticed that LED signs along the road are used to make people aware of car registration numbers of people the law enforcement agencies want to apprehend. But there is another use for this form of information – that of ‘AMBER’ alerts.
Did you know that, according to the US Department of Justice, an astonishing 797, 500 children under the age of 18 were reported missing in the USA? Of these, 58, 200 were abducted by people who were not members of their family, and 115 were kidnapped by a person the child did not know at all, or maybe only slightly.
For many of these children, particularly in the latter group, the hope of them being found was very slim, and indeed, many of them ended up murdered. It was one such abduction and murder, that of Amber Hagerman, which led to a most amazing scheme to try to find and save these children.
Amber was 9 years old when she was abducted in Texas, in 1996. Her distraught parents searched for her in vain, and eventually, after a huge police search, she was found dead. Her father, Richard was determined to find a way to make it easier to search for abducted children, and he and Bruce Seybert, whose daughter was a friend of Amber, had an idea which they presented to a media symposium in Arlington. They believed that, with the help of the media, local police could take certain actions to help find the children more quickly. A reporter from a radio station approached the Dallas police chief with Seybert’s idea and thus the ‘Amber Alert’ system was launched.
For two years alerts were made manually to radio stations which had agreed to participate but in 1998 the first fully automated Alert Notification System (ANS) was created, so that if a child was abducted, surrounding communities could be alerted via pagers, faxes, email and cell phones. Television stations would also get the information, as would newspapers and law enforcement agencies and local support organizations. The system has grown and developed over the years and now the ‘AMBER’ alert system – America’s Missing Broadcasting Emergency Response – is quite sophisticated, and information about abductions is rapidly sent via a variety of means.
If you travel along the highways of Florida you may well see an ‘AMBER’ alert on the signposts along the highways. LED billboards outside newer Walgreens and other companies carry the alert, and text messages can be sent to anyone who wishes to receive this information. AMBER alerts are distributed via satellite radio, cable TV, television stations, radio stations, NOAA Weather Radio, and by the Emergency Alert System, plus via e-mail, and electronic traffic condition signs. In some states the display boards in front of lottery terminals are also used.
In order to ensure that there are no false alerts, there are strict criteria for issuing alerts, and each state’ sets its own. However, there are guidelines which are that law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place, the child must be at risk of death or serious injury, there must be sufficient information about the child, its captor or the captor’s vehicle to issue an alert, and the child must be under 17 years of age. Descriptions of the abductee, the suspected abductor, and the license plate number of the vehicle used are made available to the public.
Whilst, unfortunately, a large number of abducted children are unlawfully killed within the first three hours, there have been a number of children who have been retrieved, and the AMBER alert system is believed to have made a difference in some of these cases.
Anything which can help prevent the death of a child must be worth doing.
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