AMBER Alerts to now be sent through Facebook

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has partnered with Facebook to send AMBER Alerts to the social network’s community to help law enforcement find missing children.

When a child goes missing, the first three hours are critical and the most important thing is to disseminate detailed information about the missing child to the public as quickly as possible.

AMBER Alerts are a child abduction alert system that started in the United States in 1996. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, and was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas.

Will provide vital information

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the initiative on National AMBER Alert Awareness Day on Jan. 13

“When a child is missing, it is critical that we all work together to locate that child,” Malloy said. “That’s why this partnership is so important — it will provide law enforcement with another tool to communicate vital information to the public in an emergency situation.”

The Connecticut AMBER Alert System has been in place since June 2002. The goal of a Connecticut AMBER Alert is to instantly alert the public to be law enforcement’s eyes and ears to assist in the search for and safe recovery of an abducted child.

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The state’s AMBER Alert plan unites local and State Police, radio and TV stations, the state Department of Transportation, Connecticut Lottery, AT&T, and now Facebook so that members of the public can all work together to help locate and return an abducted child to their family.

Using geography as a tool

A Connecticut AMBER Alert includes the name and description of the child, a description of the suspected abductor, and a description and license plate number of the abductor's vehicle.

The state’s system only issues an alert when law enforcement determines that a child was abducted and the child is in imminent danger.

“AMBER Alerts only go to people who are in a position to help — those of us within the designated search area,” said Dora Schriro, state emergency services and public protection commissioner. “If you get an alert on Facebook, it means there is an active search for an abducted child in your area and that child’s life might be in danger.”

Positive role of technology

Nationwide, as communications and evolving technology has improved, child abduction rates have dropped dramatically. Between 1997 and 2011, the United States saw a 31% decline.

Facebook Alerts are an important next step in driving them down even further through improved information dissemination, government officials said.

Facebook has already been utilized to help find missing children. Last year, an 11-year-old girl was safely recovered after a South Carolina motel employee recognized a photo of her in an AMBER alert she saw on Facebook. The woman called the police, and the child was found, unharmed.

Facebook advantages

Here’s how Facebook will complement existing AMBER Alert distribution systems:

REACH:  Facebook’s distribution system will get the AMBER Alert to everyone who is logged into Facebook (on both mobile and desktop) during the alert if they are within the designated search area as specified by law enforcement.

COMPREHENSIVE INFORMATION:  The alert will include important details about the child such as a photo, description, location of the abduction, and any other available information that can be provided to the public to aid in the search for the missing child.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT:  The Facebook system enables people to share the alert with friends and link to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for the most up-to-date information about the case.

— as edited by Brad Durrell for the Shelton Herald