Amber Alerts go Wireless
A recent Amber Alert issued in California was the first time the new Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system had been used statewide. Officials used the WEA system to alert tens of thousands of citizens through their cellphones.
A late-night Amber Alert text message for a high-profile abduction case in Southern California produced considerable confusion and anger due to the unusual and unexpected nature of the sound and appearance of the message. Not only were recipients upset by the late night alert but also frustrated with how little useful information it provided.
This served as a valuable lesson to officials who are still learning how to use the new mass notification channels being made available. As a result of the California incident, an official of the National Center for Exploited and Missing children is asking permission from regulatory authorities to allow Amber Alert senders to incorporate more detail in the texts they issue, including links to other sources of information.
The greatest risk moving forward may be an overuse of the system. If people begin opting out of the alerts or ignoring them, then the new alerting technology will have lost much of its effectiveness.