The estimated 180 million Americans using cellular telephones and wireless devices now can sign up to receive “Amber Alerts” as text messages, reports the Arizona Republic. The free program has been used in Arizona since last year, when Gov. Janet Napolitano announced a series of high-tech updates to a system lauded by authorities as a savior for missing children. “The best way to find children who are at the greatest risk is to mobilize the eyes and ears of the public,” says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va., which worked with the wireless telephone industry to expand the system.
Text messaging adds a way for authorities to transmit Amber Alerts, which also are broadcast on television, radio, and posted on lighted highway signs. Users can create their own alert zone by selecting up to five ZIP codes from which they want to be notified. The Amber Alert program, which started in Arizona in 2001, generated warnings about six missing children in 2003, 14 last year and two so far this year. The system was created after Amber Hagerman, 9, was abducted in 1996 from her Texas neighborhood and killed. Officials say the system has led to the safe return of 201 children nationwide.