TOPEKA (KSNT) – A major tool law enforcement uses to find abducted children has helped recover more than 1,000 children nationwide. But how does it work?

Aimed at saving children during abduction situations, AMBER Alerts have been helping reunite kids with their loved ones since the mid-1990’s, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Law enforcement continues to use the program to this day not only in the U.S. but also in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

How did the AMBER Alert program get started?

The program was first developed in 1996 during a partnership between Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters and local police, according to the DOJ. The thought behind the program was to create an early-warning system to help find abducted children.

The program earned its name from the case of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped in Arlington, Texas, and murdered in 1996, according to the DOJ. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was created in memory of Hagerman. The program has since been adopted in all 50 states to increase the chances that cases like Hagerman are not repeated.

As of Jan. 2, 2023, the AMBER Alert program has aided in the recovery of 1,127 children while wireless emergency alerts have resulted in the rescue of 131 children, according to the DOJ. While the program has helped save children during desperate situations, it also acts as a deterrent to those who would consider kidnapping a child.

How do AMBER Alert’s work?

AMBER Alerts require specific criteria to be met before law enforcement considers using the program, according to the DOJ. Once approved, law enforcement will notify broadcasters and state transportation heads. AMBER Alerts will interrupt regular programming and are sent out via radio, television and highway signs under state transportation departments. The alerts can also appear through other sources like lottery, digital billboards, Internet Ad exchanges, Internet search engines, mobile device alerts and more.

The AMBER Alert program is just one tool in the hands of law enforcement to help recover missing children, according to the DOJ. The use of an AMBER Alert represents an urgent case as they are only used for the most serious of situations. The DOJ strays away from overusing AMBER Alerts as doing so could result in the public becoming desensitized to the alerts.

Each state has its own criteria for publishing AMBER Alerts, according to the DOJ. However, in 2003, the PROTECT Act was passed, establishing minimum standards or guidelines for AMBER Alerts for states to adopt voluntarily. The DOJ recommends the following criteria for issuing the alerts:

  • There is reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred.
  • The law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
  • There is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • The abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger.
  • The child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

In Kansas, AMBER Alerts fall under the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI). Criteria for issuing an AMBER Alert in Kansas are listed on the KBI’s Kansas AMBER Plan website as follows:

  • There has been a child abduction;
  • The abducted child is 17 years of age or younger or an individual with a mental or physical disability;
  • There is reason to believe the victim is in imminent danger, serious bodily injury or death;
  • There is sufficient information to disseminate to the general public, which could assist in the safe recovery of the victim and/‌or the apprehension of a suspect.

If Kansas law enforcement finds that the circumstances of an abduction fit the criteria listed above, they will contact the KBI to begin the AMBER Alert procedures.

What are your options if your child goes missing in Kansas?

Besides the AMBER Alert program, there are a few other avenues you can consult when trying to find a missing child. The DOJ also manages an initiative launched in 2006 called the Child Abduction Response Team (CART). This program helps local law enforcement agencies when children are missing or abducted. Unlike the AMBER Alert program, CART can be used for all missing children cases.

The KBI also maintains resources on its website for when people go missing in Kansas. The KBI recommends contacting local law enforcement immediately if a child goes missing as the first 48 hours are typically the most critical for finding and returning a child safely.

If you want to report a missing child, you can reach out to your local law enforcement and ask the following questions as recommended by the KBI:

  • To enter the missing person into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
  • If the situation fits the national America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert criteria
  • Ask for the Case Number and the name and contact information of the investigator in charge of the case
  • Ask law enforcement to stay in touch. If they don’t call you, you can call them

To stay in touch with AMBER Alerts in Kansas, you can go to the Kansas AMBER Plan website for updates on active alerts, follow the AMBERT Alert Facebook page and the Kansas AMBER Alert X account, formerly known as Twitter.