Amber alerts are broadcast and text-like messages sent to enabled wireless phones to notify the public of missing or kidnapped children believed to be in imminent danger. Amber alerts are sent using the Wireless Emergency Alert public safety system, used by government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas.

Amber alerts are named for a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped and later found dead. In response to that tragedy, radio stations agreed to repeat news bulletins about abducted children, hoping that the bulletins might help save the life of a child.

How it works

Once law enforcement officials confirm a missing child report, an Amber alert is sent to radio stations, television stations, and cable companies, and via text-like message to enabled wireless phones. (There are no text charges for Amber alerts.) Broadcasters interrupt programming to relay the information to the community - the same concept that is used during severe weather or national emergencies. A description of the abducted child, suspected abductor and details of the abduction are included in the alert, along with how to contact the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

The goal of WEA Amber alerts is to galvanize an entire community, adding millions of extra eyes and ears to watch, listen, and help in the safe return of the child and apprehension of the suspect.

Law enforcement officials will activate an Amber alert if:

  • They believe an abduction has occurred and the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  • They have enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for an Amber alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The abduction is of a child age 17 years or younger.

What you can do

If you get a WEA Amber alert text message, or see or hear a broadcast alert and see a child, adult, or vehicle fitting an Amber alert description, immediately call the telephone number given in the alert and provide authorities with as much information as possible.

Remember:

Amber alerts are only used for the most serious child abduction cases, when authorities believe a child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, not for runaways or many parental abductions.

Consumer Help Center

For more information on consumer issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer Help Center at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.

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Amber Alerts Guide (pdf)

Date Last Updated/Reviewed: 
Tuesday, November 24, 2015