The AMBER Alert program, credited with the safe recovery of 525 children across the country, has a new ally: Facebook. And finally Facebook gets some good press.
Announced today by Facebook, the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), Facebook users are able to sign up to receive AMBER Alert bulletins for their state which will be sent to them through the Facebook "News Feed" feature. A total of 53 new AMBER Alert Pages have been created, one for each state, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Facebook users will also be able to share the AMBER Alerts with their friends.
With more than half a billion people using Facebook, the Facebook AMBER Alert integration represents an important expansion for the program.
"Everyone at Facebook feels a responsibility to help protect children and, as a former federal prosecutor and a father of two, I am particularly proud that we are now part of the AMBER Alert program," said Chris Sonderby, Facebook Lead Security and Investigations Counsel. "Our hearts go out to the families of the missing and our gratitude goes to the officers, volunteers, and other AMBER Alert partners who work tirelessly to bring them home. We are hopeful that today's announcement offers these dedicated officials another useful tool to find and safely recover abducted children."
An estimated 800,000 children are reported missing every year. AMBER Alert is a voluntary partnership involving law-enforcement agencies and broadcasters. An urgent AMBER Alert bulletin is issued by law enforcement in the most serious child-abduction cases that meet specific criteria. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of the child.
“As the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I am pleased to see the growth of the program's national network. I would like to thank NCMEC and Facebook for working together to develop another way the public can join with us to bring home missing and abducted children. We each can play our part by being aware and responsive to AMBER Alert postings that we will now see on Facebook," said Laurie O. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs.
On January 13, 1996, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman went missing while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas. A neighbor heard her scream and saw a man pull her off her bike throw her into the front seat of his pickup truck and drive away. Local radio and television stations covered the story. However, four days later Amber's body was found in a drainage ditch four miles away. Her kidnapping and murder still remain unsolved. In 2003, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee the AMBER Alert program designating the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs as National AMBER Coordinator.
The primary means for AMBER Alert activation is the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the broadcast system used for weather emergencies and other public emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created a special code and tone for AMBER Alerts. Once law enforcement has determined that a child has been abducted and the abduction meets AMBER Alert criteria, law enforcement notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials.
The new Facebook AMBER Alert pages represent an important expansion of the secondary distribution system and will enable AMBER Alerts to dramatically increase the reach of and impact of these life-saving bulletins.