New Amber Alert system sparks concerns


by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN GUSKY

Bio | Email | Follow: @KrisB_KVUE

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 7:09 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 11 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Since January 1, Amber Alerts are automatically sent to smartphones in the area where a child was abducted, whether or not you signed up to receive them. It’s called the Commercial Mobile Alert System, or CMAS.

“Under this new system, if you’re visiting the Austin area from Dallas, and we have an Amber Alert in Austin, you will receive that on your wireless phone,” said David Boatright with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC.

But there’s concern that the alerts don’t include enough information, since the texts sent out to phones this week after two children went missing in the Houston and Lubbock area simply stated: “An Amber Alert has been issued in your area, please check local media.”

“I’d feel better if there was more information with the alerts, but it’s comforting to know it’s getting out,” an Austin-area mother told KVUE, after receiving an alert on her phone this week. However, she could not tell if the alert was regarding the Houston disappearance, or the one in the Lubbock area.

Another concern is the alert tone your phone will make if you receive an automatic text: it’s been described as “loud”, “scary”, and “annoying.” It’s a unique tone to let you know an Amber Alert has been issued.

You can hear the tone by clicking here.

Boatwright tells us NCMEC is still working on ways to improve the messaging system, and welcomes any input.

You can give feedback by clicking here.

Since 1996, Amber Alerts have resulted in the rescue of more than 600 children and NCMEC is always looking for new ways to alert the public if a child goes missing. However, the new mobile alert system gives out very limited information and television stations are concerned that people might not find more details when the alert directs them to “check local media.”

“For a city that’s way out of our area, that would be for that city only, and we would ignore something like that. We wouldn’t even get an alert,” said KVUE’s Director of Technology Mike Wenglar, in regards to this week's Amber Alert message in Austin regarding the Houston abduction. He’s concerned people will receive these texts, check local media and find there is no additional information.

If you do not want to receive the new Amber Alerts, you can opt out of them by changing your cell phone settings.

Texas will join the nation in observing National Amber Alert Awareness Day on January 13, 2013.

Austin Local News Video
More Video