The AMBER Plan & History — The Illinois AMBER Alert Task Force

Amber Hagerman

In 1996, nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted while playing near her home in Arlington, Texas, and later found murdered. In response to community concern, the Texas Association of Radio Managers, with the assistance of Texas’ local area law enforcement, created the first AMBER Plan. All fifty states now have similar plans.

The Illinois AMBER Alert Notification Plan is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, and the National Weather Service to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child abduction cases. This is the same concept used during severe weather emergencies. The goal of the AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and safe return of the child.

History of AMBER Alerts

January 2002:

Illinois was the fifth state to develop a statewide plan and the first state to enact specific AMBER Alert legislation.

October 2002:

The United State Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs to serve as the national AMBER Alert Coordinator.

November 2002:

Illinois has its first statewide AMBER Alert Broadcast

April 2003:

President George Bush signed the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 into law.

July 2003:

Enhanced Illinois legislation including the appointment of a Child Safety Coordinator, the establishment of an AMBER Plan Task Force, use of Illinois Department of Transportation electronic message signs, a community outreach program, child abduction prevention in school curricula, and training for law enforcement personnel.

February 2004:

The Illinois State Police signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the state of Wisconsin to activate an AMBER Alert that may cross state lines.

March 2004:

The Illinois State Police signed an Inter-State MOU for activation of an alert that may cross other state lines.

February 2005

Hawaii became the 50th state to complete its statewide AMBER Alert plan creating a network of plans nationwide.

May 2005

The first plan to receive wireless AMBER Alerts messages on mobile devices takes place.

May 2008

The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) joined the AMBER Alert secondary distribution list network.

January 2009

All 50states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have AMBER Plans.  The AMBER Alert system has also been adopted in the Canadian provinces and continues to expand into the mexican border states.

November 2012

Google becomes part of the AMBER Alert network by creating Google Public Alerts.

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AMBER Alert Process

The investigating local law enforcement agency contacts the Illinois State Police providing details of the abduction. If the AMBER Notification Plan criteria are met, activation is initiated. The Illinois State Police then ensures the child abduction information is disseminated to the broadcast community through the National Weather Service NOAA Weather Radio and secondary blast fax/email, posted here and on all Illinois state websites, and the information displayed on Department of Transportation and Tollway roadway message boards, and distributed to the Illinois Lottery. The Illinois State Police will also work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to activate Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to cell phones and various other secondary notification sources.

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Media Participation

Once the child abduction information is received through the National Weather Service and/or secondary dissemination of email or fax, radio and television stations have the option on whether or not to re-broadcast the information. The media is encouraged to rebroadcast the alert every 30 minutes for at least 4 hours (not to exceed eight hours) after the notification was received. The further broadcast of the alert will be left up to the individual broadcasting station and is completely voluntary.

The media is an important partner in returning a child home safely because of the large audiences that can be reached through there broadcasts. The cooperation the Illinois media has shown has been tremendous in enhancing the awareness of the public to help in law enforcements efforts to safely recovering an abducted child When time is of the essence, the message that the media can relay can be the overwhelming factor in returning a child home.

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