WASHINGTON – The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is expanding its AMBER Alert program to Facebook.
Beginning Wednesday,Facebook’s 500 million users are able to sign up to receive AMBER Alert bulletins in the website’s news feed feature.
The program’s expansion was announced at a press conference held by the center,Facebook and the U.S. Department of Justice,a day before the 15th anniversary of the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington,Texas.
Chris Sonderby,Facebook’s lead security and investigation counsel,said people in every state can receive AMBER Alerts the moment they are issued and can send them to others in their networks.
“I think that is a dramatic enhancement of the distribution system that will increase the scope and reach of these lifesaving alerts,” Sonderby said.
The center and Facebook have created 53 new AMBER Alert pages,one for each state,the District of Columbia,Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. A national AMBER Alert page will provide national news about the program and direct people to their state’s AMBER Alert page.
Many state law enforcement agencies already share AMBER Alert information on their Facebook pages. Officials hope the new system will spread information more rapidly and lead to more children being returned safely.
“Average people doing average things but paying attention are saving lives and reuniting families,” Ernie Allen,the center’s president,said. “With more than 500 million Facebook users,this bold initiative will help us mobilize many more people and bring more missing children home.”
The first AMBER system was created in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a response to Amber Hagerman’s abduction. In 2003,Congress passed the PROTECT Act, which created the national AMBER system coordinated by the Justice Department. AMBER Alerts are primarily issued using the Emergency Alert System that is also used for weather and other public emergencies.
To distribute the alerts faster and to a wider population,the Justice Department has designated the missing children’s center as the coordinator of secondary alerts,such as those to electronic billboards and cell phones. The center has also partnered with Internet service providers and wireless phone services to issue the bulletins.
“A major factor in this success has always been the use of secondary distribution networks,” Laurie Robinson,assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs and the National AMBER Alert coordinator,said. “From wireless providers to trucking companies,AMBER Alert really depends on partnerships with public and private entities to get the word out when a child goes missing.”