Updated and adapted from an original article
by Pat Spencer, KD4PWL,
Revised 11/2016

By now, almost everyone has heard of the AMBER alert system. There are, however, a few things about the system that we need to look at to make sure it is properly understood and that we react to it properly.

The America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alert system was created in 1996 as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas and then brutally murdered. After this heinous crime, Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. It has grown into a national effort by law enforcement agencies and broadcasters.

So what is an “Amber Alert”? Some might consider any missing child as an AMBER situation. The fact is, not all missing child incidents will result in an AMBER alert. A child who has wandered away or has been taken by a member of the family will not be considered as an AMBER situation. Any missing child situation should be reported and, if you can assist, you should however you probably won’t see any alerts.

One of the leading reasons for child abduction is a custody battle between divorcing parents. Usually, this type of situation does not involve a threat to the safety or welfare of the child. There may, however, be parental situations where the incident escalates and threat to the child is determined and an alert may be issued.

There are some differences in definitions in different areas however the Department of Justice’s Recommended Criteria is:

  1. There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
  2. The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  3. There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMGER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  4. The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
  5. The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

Amber Alerts are broadcast using the Emergency Alert System on TV and radio stations, “crawling announcements” over cable TV systems, posted on electronic signs on highways, alarm and text messages sent to cell phones and technology is evolving on the Internet. Each
community is different in its resources and methods of broadcast.

Amateur Radio’s Role in AMBER Alerts
The primary role of amateur radio is that of an ordinary citizen. Common sense dictates that a child abduction incident is a law enforcement matter and those outside of law enforcement should take a secondary role and observe and report.

Much like our role during severe weather, we observe and report and not “chase” the storm. If you come into contact with the suspect, do not try to intervene. You should consider the suspect as a danger to yourself, to the child and to others. rying to capture or pursue the suspect could result in injury or death to you, to the child and/or to innocent bystanders. The only action you should take is to notify your local local law enforcement agency.

If you want to take an active role, take a moment during the time you call the police and they arrive to write down anything you observed. This information would include descriptions, license numbers, clothing, vehicle model and color and other facts that will be important to identifying and apprehending the suspect. Human memory is volatile and in the time between your call and your interview with police officers facts can be forgotten or confused with other facts you are trying to relay to them.

Amateur radio can also serve another role in assisting law enforcement agencies to identify and apprehend a child abductor. We have the ability to communicate information very quickly through a number of means. Transmit the vehicle description, the street and direction of travel so other hams in the vicinity can look out for it. Don’t be afraid to communicate the information to other amateur radio operators and encourage them to contact police if they observe the suspect. The key to the AMBER system is to provide as many eyes and ears as possible to help the police.

If you have an existing relationship with your local police officials, offer your assistance in acting as an organized group of extra eyes. Work with them to develop a protocol where you might have an amateur respond to police headquarters and conduct a net of observers. Do not, however do this on your own. Establish a relationship and have a working plan with the agency before considering this. Otherwise you will be a hindrance rather than a help.

Above all else, remember that you must let your local law enforcement agency take the lead in the situation. Follow their instruction to the letter. Sure, we have some special capabilities but in a child abduction situation we are only ordinary citizens. If the police agency politely refuses amateur radio assistance, thank them for their time and continue on your way. Do remember, however, to report any sightings of the suspect. It is the welfare of the child that takes priority over all other considerations.


That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?

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