The AMBER Alert was created in the United States in 1996 by the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Radio Managers, in association with local law enforcement agencies in Northern Texas. The AMBER alert system was in response to, and as a legacy to, nine year old Amber Hagerman who was abducted and brutally murdered in Arlington, Texas. Residents of the community were shocked and outraged by the murder. Citizens contacted local broadcasting stations, wondering if there was anything that could be done to prevent future incidents and suggesting an alert system similar to the one used to warn people of extreme weather conditions. The AMBER alert system, which stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, uses the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to air the description of the missing child and the suspected abductor, along with any other valuable information known about the abduction. The goal of the alert is to captivate the entire community and enlist their assistance in the search for and safe return of abducted children.

The AMBER Plan

The Amber Plan is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies and broadcasting companies. Together, they activate an emergency bulletin to be used in serious child-abduction cases. Broadcasters receive information from police and use an Emergency Alert System (EAS) to air a complete description of the child abducted as well as the suspect.

How It Works

In order for an alert to be activated, certain criteria must be met:

  1. Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place prior to issuing the alert.
  2. The individual must be a child (in Canada this is defined as under 18 years of age) or have a proven mental or physical disability.
  3. The child is believed to be in danger of bodily harm or death.
  4. There is sufficient descriptive information that will help the public to identify the child or the suspected abductor.

When it is determined that the criteria for an Amber Alert have been met, the information is assembled and released for public distribution. The information includes a description or a photo of the child, a description of the suspected abductor and the suspected vehicle, as well as any other valuable information that could be used to identify the child or the suspect. This information is then distributed to radio and television stations that have been designated the primary stations under the Emergency Alert System. These then send out the same information to other radio and television stations through the EAS for immediate broadcasting. This allows a great number of people to see or hear the broadcast within a short period of time.

An AMBER Alert is only used for the most serious abduction cases, where the life of the victim is believed to be in grave danger, as not to overuse the system and minimize its effect on listeners.

AMBER Alert Implementation

When an alert has been initiated:

  • The alert is shown every 15 minutes for the first three hours;
  • After the initial three hours, the alert is shown every 30 minutes for five hours;
  • The alert is shown in newscasts every hour for 24 hours;
  • The alert is cancelled after 24 hours, or when the police notify the broadcaster that the victim has been found.

Some provinces and states also use electronic highway signs in the Amber Alert. Highway signs in areas where the suspect may be show a description of the victim, the suspect, and the suspect vehicle.

Wireless AMBER Alert

In May 2010, Amber alert Canada created an initiative called Wireless AMBER Alerts, a program that distributes AMBER Alerts to wireless subscribers who opt in to receive such messages. Subscribers capable of receiving text messages, and whose wireless carrier participates in the Wireless AMBER Alerts Initiative, may opt in to receive alerts at www.wirelessamber.ca or directly through your wireless device.

AMBER Alert in Canada

Canada’s Amber Alert systems were modelled after those in the United States and came into effect after much public interest from community organizations, including Victims of Violence and Canadian provincial governments. It was understood that in order to be successful, the system would need to be adopted in all provinces. Alberta was the first to implement the system in December 2002, followed by Ontario in early January 2003. All other Canadian provinces have since adopted AMBER Alert, the latest being British Columbia and Nova Scotia in May 2004.

AMBER Alert and Facebook

In the summer of 2010, Canada became the first country to create a partnership with a social network, Facebook, to assist the police in alerting the public about AMBER alerts. New Brunswick was the first province to create an Amber alert Facebook page and within 6 months was followed by Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and Québec. There is expected to be a Facebook Amber alert page for every province and territory by the end of 2011.

AMBER Alert Success Stories

The AMBER plan has proved to be very successful where it is implemented. There are many examples of successful child recoveries.

May 26, 2014, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec: A one-day old baby was abducted from the Ville-Marie hospital in Quebec by a woman who was dressed as a nurse. The parents and hospital staff were quick to notice the absence of the baby. Quebec provincial police issued an Amber alert containing a photo of the baby, the picture of the suspect-which was obtained from hospital security cameras, as well a description of the suspect’s car. After seeing the Amber Alert on Facebook, four local teenagers recognized the suspect and immediately got in contact with the local police. Only 3 hours after the Amber alert was issued, the police arrived at the suspect’s apartment and located the baby safely.

August 1, 2013, Niagara Falls, Ontario: A 9-year old boy was abducted by his non-custodial mother and uncle during a family reunion at an amusement park. The boy was reported missing by his father when he could not be located upon the closing of the park. Niagara Police issued an Amber Alert the following morning containing information about both the child and two abductors. Police were able to locate the uncle first when his car was pulled over as a result of matching the description given in the Amber Alert. The uncle’s arrest led the police to a Toronto hotel where the child was safely located.

September 24, 2010, Dardenelle, Arkensas: A 17-year-old girl was abducted from the parking lot of a Wal-Mart, as witnessed by several customers. Her cell phone was later located in a ditch in the Perry area of Perry County, AR. A Morgan Nick/AMBER Alert was issued. It was later learned that someone had broken a window to the girl’s bedroom at her residence and taken several items. Later that evening, the girl called her mother from a gas station in New Boston, TX. She told investigators that her abductor saw the AMBER Alert on an electronic road sign near Texarkana and decided to let her go. The New Boston Police Department was notified and they went to the gas station where the child was safely rescued.

November 9, 2009, Sanford, Maine:  A 2-year-old girl was abducted by her non-custodial father after he broke into her home. He physically and sexually assaulted the child’s mother at knife point, stole her cellular phone, and stated that he had nothing to live for. An AMBER Alert was quickly issued. A hunter in New Hampshire had heard the AMBER Alert and memorized the vehicle and registration number of the truck. He located the father and daughter in a truck on a tote road in the woods and refused to leave without taking girl with him. The child was safely rescued.

July 18, 2008, Racine, Wisconsin: An 11 ½ month old child was taken by force from an apartment by an ex-boyfriend of the child’s mother. The abductor took the child and left a note indicating the child was being held ransom for $2,000 that the abductor claimed was owed to him. An AMBER Alert was issued. The abductor heard the Alert and gave the child to a third party. The child was safely rescued.

July 14, 2003, Montreal Québec: A 17 year old girl was abducted at knife point by her ex-boyfriend after ending their relationship. A neighbour witnessed the abduction and contacted the authorities. Authorities found that the suspect had a criminal record and an AMBER Alert was issued throughout Québec. A person heard the alert on the radio, noticed that the stolen vehicle was in front of him and quickly called 911. The suspect was apprehended and arrested, and the girl was safely recovered.

How You Can Help

The public plays a critical role in the success of the AMBER Alert Program.

  • If you hear an AMBER Alert, watch for the child, the suspect, the suspect’s vehicle, and any other information given in the alert.
  • Provide further information on the location of the abduction or description of the victim and suspect if possible.
  • Immediately report any sightings or information by calling 911 or the phone number given in the AMBER Alert.
  • Do not call emergency 911 for information regarding the abduction.

The Public can report information or sightings to the AMBER Alert Call Centre. There are operators available at the toll-free hotline 24 hours a day:

1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)

Amber Alert. http://www.amberalert.gov/

CBC. “Amber Alerts.” August 2009. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/08/19/f-amber-alert.html

Code Amber. “Amber Alert Updates.”  http://codeamber.org/alerts.html

Global News. “Baby taken from hospital found Safe.” http://globalnews.ca/news/1355790/amber-alert-issued-after-baby-taken-from-hospital-in-quebec/