AMBER Alerts are serious. On August 6 authorities in San Diego issued an alert for two children they believe were kidnapped by a neighbor who may have killed their mother. For many in the area (who did not have their phones on vibrate) it was the first time they heard an AMBER Alert on their cell phone and it left them not just confused and startled but eager to turn off the AMBER Alert notifications stat.
Government Alerts Gone Mobile
It’s been going on for months now. Cell phone users across the US have been abruptly awakened by their device blaring in the middle of the night. It doesn’t sound like your typical alarm going off, or a text message or phone call. This sound is much more unpleasant. Here, take a listen, but remember as awful as it may be to hear, it is the sound of a child missing and possibly in danger in your area.
Some Background on AMBER Alerts
AMBER Alerts went mobile on December 31, 2012 as a part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) Program also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System. The program is overseen by FEMA and the FCC and it’s responsible for sending capable device carriers federal, state and local alerts of imminent threats to safety or in an emergency situation.
Most mobile phone carriers, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, participate in the program. It uses technology to make sure the alerts are delivered to cell phones in a specific area. For example, even though I live in Texas, but have a Florida phone number I received an AMBER alert about a missing child in New York City because I happened to be in NYC when the AMBER Alert was issued by local law enforcement.
Why MY Phone?
According to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) “the first three hours after an abduction are the most critical in recovery efforts” and being able to quickly engage the public about a situation where a child is missing could help law enforcement “bring that child home safely.”
That’s because more than half of all Americans own a cell phone. It speaks volumes about how far we’ve come when it comes to technology, and how helpful it can be in some situations when the public is truly needed.
Unfortunately since most people were not informed by their carrier about the new WEA program it’s no surprise many were downright annoyed and scared by the noise coming from their phones while they slept. Here’s what some of them posted on twitter.
That iPhone amber alert was annoying as hell.
— Jordan Grant (@Jordan_Grant702) August 8, 2013
If i had that amber alert sound as my alarm clock i’d wake up with no hesitation
— Chris Simmons (@chriSimmons) August 6, 2013
Not gonna lie the ring of the amber alert scared me half to death
— Teala Dunn (@TTLYTEALA) August 6, 2013
You Can Opt-out
Cell Phone users do have an option to opt out of the WEA program. How to do it varies from carrier to carrier and it’s different on every device. It’s simple to turn off on the iPhone.
Go to Settings àNotifications, then scroll to the bottom of the page and TA-DA.
But before you turn the alerts off (and there’s no way to turn off Presidential Alerts) think about this, only about 100 AMBER Alerts have gone out on phones since the program was implemented. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children they’ve already led to two children being recovered. One was in Minnesota when a teenager spotted the car of the person who had taken an 8-month old baby. The second was in Ohio when a group of people driving spotted the car described on their text alert and trailed it. It turns out it was the same van that had abducted an 8-year-old child.
Since implemented AMBER Alerts have helped recover close to 650 children who were abducted. If we have the chance to help someone just because we have a cellphone why would we opt-out of that?