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Four criteria must be met to issue an AMBER Alert

Thursday, August 7, 2014

When a child has been abducted and potentially is in danger, an AMBER Alert is issued.

That happened locally on Tuesday, when an AMBER Alert was issued for a 3-year-old Patrick County boy suspected of being abducted by his father. The boy was found safe Wednesday in Kentucky (see related story).

According to, which is maintained by the Virginia State Police, AMBER is an acronym for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.”

The acronym was created to honor the memory of Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old from Arlington, Texas, who was abducted in 1996 while riding her bicycle. Hagerman’s body was found four days later.

According to the website, the Association of Radio Managers and Arlington-area police created the “Amber Plan” shortly after Hagerman’s death. It uses the Emergency Alert System to report serious child abduction cases. The goal is to alert the public to an abduction as quickly as possible to lead to the safe recovery of the child and the capture of the child’s abductor.

The AMBER Alert system has since spread to many different areas across the country, including Virginia, the website said.

For law enforcement to activate the AMBER Alert system, four criteria must be met:

• The abducted child must be 17 or younger or enrolled in a secondary school in the commonwealth regardless of age, and the law enforcement agency must believe the child was abducted (unwillingly taken from his or her environment without permission from the child’s parent or legal guardian).

• The law enforcement agency must believe that the missing child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.

• Enough information is available to share with the public that could assist in locating the child, a suspect or suspect’s vehicle.

• The child must be entered into the Virginia Criminal Information Network (VCIN) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) missing person files as soon as is practical.

Once those criteria are met, the AMBER Alert is shared through the Emergency Alert System, which broadcasts the alert on radio and television; Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) message boards, highway alert radio and other communications systems; and through various other systems and agencies.

AMBER Alerts also are broadcast as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), according to, the website of CTIA — The Wireless Association, an industry trade group representing the international wireless telecommunications industry.

A WEA appears on a cell phone like a text message, although it is not the same technology as a text message, according to the website.

WEA AMBER Alerts are delivered immediately and are not subject to potential wireless network delays, the site said.

Also unlike text messages, WEA AMBER Alerts are sent to every cell phone within a targeted area, unlike a text message, which can be sent only to a specific person or persons.

For example, if a Florida resident was visiting Southwest Virginia and a WEA AMBER Alert was issued within Southwest Virginia, the Florida resident would receive the alert. At the same time, if a WEA AMBER Alert was issued in Florida while the Florida resident was in Virginia, the Florida resident would not receive it.

According to, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has credited the AMBER Alert program with the successful recovery of 400 children.


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