AMBER alert goes off on Grounds

Warning part of national child abduction prevention network

The Albemarle County Police Station

“It was strange,” Wykowksi said. “Everyone’s phones started going off at the same time and for a few seconds no one knew what was going on. Our professor even stopped class – I think his phone might have been going off too.”

An AMBER Alert reached students across Grounds last Wednesday, Feb. 19, as part of an effort to recover five-year-old Amiyah Monet Dallas. She was found alive later that day.

AMBER Alert is a national notification system designed to rapidly spread notice of an abducted child. The alert last week was sent from the state police to cell phones, informing the public of the abduction and the suspected abduction vehicle, as well as where and when the car was last seen.

Many students at the University received the alert. First-year College student Henry Wykowski said the alert brought his lecture to a stop when a number of phones started buzzing simultaneously.

“It was strange,” Wykowksi said. “Everyone’s phones started going off at the same time and for a few seconds no one knew what was going on. Our professor even stopped class – I think his phone might have been going off, too.”

An AMBER Alert starts with a local report of an abducted child, and from there goes to a more central department where it is more widely circulated, Charlottesville Police spokesperson Ronnie Roberts said.

“Any [Virginia] alert request goes to Richmond and is then often sent nationwide,” Roberts said. “It is distributed first through the Commonwealth and then can spread beyond that.”

In order to get the word out, the state police department contacts cellular networks and puts the news on message boards throughout the Commonwealth.

“A notice is sent out to all the cell phone companies so people get an instant message,” Roberts said.

Virginia State Police Sgt. Hamer compared the system to a “mass multimedia message,” saying the more people who see an alert, the better. Hamer is currently completing Dallas’ case, who was abducted in Accomack County, and said he was pleased with how AMBER Alert had worked in her situation.

“It was probably within 35 mins that she was found, so the alert did what it was supposed to do,” Hamer said. “It was actually a citizen who alerted a state trooper [that led to her discovery].”

Not everyone on Grounds got the message of Dallas’ abduction, and, in some cases, the announcement was met with confusion. Second-year Engineering student Kit Guncheon said he never got the alert.

“I didn’t get the notification, but I think it’s a great idea, it seems like a really smart system,” Guncheon said. “It wouldn’t have bothered me, receiving the message. It seems important to reach out to as many people as possible in this kind of issue.”

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said the alert is spread through the Wireless Emergency Alert program, a supplement to the Emergency Alert System, which is intended to distribute messages from authorized government agencies warning the public of safety issues and emergency situations.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, “if you own a capable mobile device, you will automatically receive these alerts when you are in the geographic area where an alert has been issued,”

AMBER Alert started in 1996 in Dallas-Fort Worth in honor of Amber Hagerman, and has since spread to all 50 states and saved the lives of 679 children nationwide, according to the Department of Justice’s website.

Published March 2, 2014 in FP test, News

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