Office of Justice Programs AMBER Alert - America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response

Frequently Asked Questions

How does it work?

Once law enforcement determines that a child has been abducted and the abduction meets AMBER Alert criteria, law enforcement issues an AMBER Alert and notifies broadcasters and state transportation officials. AMBER Alerts interrupt regular programming and are broadcast on radio and television and on highway signs. AMBER Alerts can also be issued on lottery tickets, wireless devices such as mobile phones, and over the Internet.

Are AMBER Alerts issued for all missing children?

AMBER Alerts are issued for abducted children when the situation meets the AMBER Alert criteria. When a child is missing, law enforcement can act swiftly to help recover the child, by developing search and rescue teams or by bringing dogs to the scene to track the scent. AMBER Alert is only one tool that law enforcement can use to find abducted children. AMBER Alerts should be reserved for those cases that meet the AMBER criteria. Overuse of AMBER Alert could result in the public becoming desensitized to Alerts when they are issued.

What are the criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts?

Each state AMBER Alert plan has its own criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts. The PROTECT Act, passed in 2003, which established the role of AMBER Alert Coordinator within the Department of Justice (DOJ), calls for DOJ to issue minimum standards or guidelines for AMBER Alerts that states can adopt voluntarily. DOJ's guidance on criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts is:

  • Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place
  • The child is at risk of serious injury or death
  • There is sufficient descriptive information of child, captor, or captor's vehicle to issue an alert
  • The child must be 17 years old or younger
  • It is recommended that immediate entry of AMBER Alert data be entered in FBI's National Crime Information Center. Text information describing the circumstances surrounding the abduction of the child should be entered, and the case flagged as Child Abduction.

Most state's guidelines adhere closely to DOJ's recommended guidelines.

How can I find out if an e-mail I received about a missing child is legitimate?

You should contact local law enforcement agencies in the area where a child is missing from or search the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) web site. NCMEC serves as the clearinghouse of information about missing and exploited children, and offers a searchable database of missing children. In addition, the Association for Missing and Exploited Children's Organizations is an organization of member agencies in the United States and Canada who provide services to families with missing and exploited children. E-mail notification is not included as a specification of the AMBER Alert plan.

Can AMBER Alerts be issued across state and jurisdictional lines?

Yes. Many states have formal memorandums of understanding with other states and there are currently 28 regional plans. If law enforcement has reason to believe that the child has been taken across state lines, the AMBER state coordinator will ask that state to issue an alert. This happened when a boy from a Chicago suburb was abducted. Law enforcement had reason to believe the child was in Indiana and then taken to California. In both instances Indiana and California issued an alert at Illinois’ request. The child was recovered in California. Many states have informal agreements with other states to issue AMBER Alerts upon request.

How effective has it been?

AMBER Alert has been very effective. AMBER Alert programs have helped save the lives of 602 children nationwide. Over 90 percent of those recoveries have occurred since October 2002 when President Bush called for the appointment of an AMBER Alert Coordinator at the first-ever White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children. AMBER Alerts serve as deterrents to those who would prey upon our children. AMBER Alert cases have shown that some perpetrators release the abducted child after hearing the AMBER Alert on the radio or seeing it on television.

How does the AMBER Alert plan help children and families?

The establishment of AMBER Alert plans in all 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the expansion of the program into Indian Country and our northern and southern borders mark an important milestone in our efforts to prevent child abductions. No matter where a child is abducted, communities and law enforcement work together to recover missing children quickly and safely. The numbers of recovered children speak for themselves. In 2001, only two children were recovered due to AMBER Alert. In 2006, 69 children were recovered because of an AMBER Alert. Expansion of the AMBER Alert program is making a difference in saving children's lives.

Have there been any successes or failures of the AMBER Alert system?

Everyone from law enforcement to government to broadcasters has worked very hard to make the AMBER Alert program a success. Although there is much work left to do, the progress made has been significant. All 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands now have AMBER Alert plans and 602 children have been recovered because of the AMBER Alert.