The nation’s Amber Alert system was connected to the Internet yesterday, reports USA Today. It was a major technological boost that users say should make it easier to thwart child abductions by transmitting messages over pagers, cellphones, and BlackBerrys. Until now, Amber Alerts have been based on radio technology, meaning that messages have depended on the old and sometimes unreliable emergency alert system to notify citizens of natural disasters.
The new Web-based system can transmit emergency information more quickly and to a wider variety of devices. It comes with software that pinpoints the location of an abduction and sends out messages targeted to that locale. Amber Alert managers in 11 states were given access to the new portal yesterday. Use of the system is expected to expand to the 49 states that have statewide Amber Alert systems, all but Hawaii. Targeted messages could help overcome a scattershot technology that sends emergency messages beyond the area where they are most relevant. “If there’s an abduction in Kansas and the message goes right away to Maryland, that can be counterproductive,” said John Rabun of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “It desensitizes people to the alerts.” Amber Alerts are named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old abducted and killed in 1996 near her home in Arlington, Texas.