Amber alerts expand to Internet
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Oct 04, 2002
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
As President Bush announced plans to help expand the Amber Alert system
nationwide, America Online Inc. unveiled its service to send the text alerts
about abducted children via the Internet.
Beginning in November, Amber Alert texts — as issued by law enforcement
officials — will be sent via an AOL Alerts and Reminders service that the
company will launch later this month.
The alerts will be targeted to members based on the states in which
they reside. So far, about 95 percent of the states, counties and cities that have
Amber systems in place have agreed to participate in the AOL program, which
was launched in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children (NCMEC). AOL members can choose to receive alerts on their computer
screens via e-mail or on mobile phones or pagers.
Nicholas Graham, an AOL spokesman, said 50,000 members have already pre-registered for the free, non-commercial service since it was announced Oct. 1. "That's speaks to the power...of the online community and willingness to share in a worthy goal," he said, adding that the company has 28 million members.
The alerts will be "geo-targeted" to a city, county or state depending on the regional or state Amber plan. Graham said AOL intends to expand the program to include subscribers of its instant messaging service. He said the more people are educated about the Amber program and have the service, the more eyes and ears are out there to help law enforcement save an abducted child.
Two weeks ago, another company — New York City-based Fine Point Technologies Inc. — announced
it also had software to deploy Amber Alerts via the Internet.
"We're eager to leverage this technology to any and all of these regional
systems," said Antonia Townsend, the company's vice president of marketing
and corporate development, adding that the messaging technology is deployable
now and could also be used for other types of emergency updates, such as
storm warnings. Townsend said that Fine Point, which develops software for
Internet service providers and other cable and telecommunications companies,
became involved when an Alabama-based ISP client wanted the technology to
carry Amber Alerts. The software resides in a subscriber's system and a
message pops up when an alert is issued. She said an ISP has to follow the
Amber guidelines that govern the media in a participating region or state.
Although there is a cost for the service, Townsend said Fine Point would
try to accommodate clients to carry the technology. The company "in no way"
is competing with AOL regarding this product, she said, adding that AOL
is a "potential customer for us."
The voluntary Amber system is a partnership between law enforcement
agencies and broadcasters, who use the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to air
a description of a missing child and/or suspected kidnapper. Some states
also are using electronic highway billboards to deliver alerts.
The system was named for a 9-year-old Texas girl, Amber Hagerman, who
was kidnapped and killed in 1996. Amber also stands for America's Missing:
Broadcast Emergency Response. Since the original program was formed, 66
modified versions have been adopted at the local, regional and state levels.
The program is credited with recovering 31 children and teens so far.
On Oct. 2, Bush held a White House conference on missing, exploited
and runaway children, announcing support for a bill that would strengthen
and widen the system. He also said the Justice Department would establish
an Amber Alert coordinator who would help state and local officials develop
and enhance the systems. The attorney general and the Transportation secretary
would also provide $10 million in existing funds to develop training and
education programs, upgrade emergency alert systems and facilitate use of
overhead electronic highway billboards, among other systems.