First Successful Amber Alert Sent to Phones in Nation

Posted at: 02/21/2013 3:34 PM

ST. PAUL — The safe recovery of an abducted eight-month-old Minnesota child marked the first time an AMBER Alert was sent to Minnesota cell phones via Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA), and the first time in the United States a cell phone alert led directly to the successful recovery of a child.

The Bureau of Criminal of Apprehension issued a full AMBER Alert, including the WEA when the child was abducted February 20 from his Minneapolis home by a woman who was an acquaintance of the boy’s mother.

A teenager who received the WEA alert on her cell phone spotted the vehicle used in the abduction and told her father, who notified police. Officers from the Minneapolis Police Department located the victim unharmed in the basement of the home where the vehicle was found. The suspect was apprehended outside of the home.

“Teenagers are on their phones a lot, but in this case, it helped law enforcement reunite a little boy with his mother,” Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman said.

“Wireless Emergency Alerts are another important way to ensure the public receives vital information right away, wherever they are.”

Nationwide Wireless Emergency Alerts have been used to distribute AMBER Alerts since December 31, 2012. The National Weather Service began issuing what are called Imminent Threat Alerts last summer. These alerts are part of a larger effort to integrate the public alert and warning systems.

The National Weather Service in Minnesota has used WEAs to notify the public of severe weather, most recently February 18 in western and northwestern Minnesota for a blizzard warning. These warnings are issued to specific counties.

The message is sent to all residents currently in the county whether or not they actually live there. WEA messages look like text messages but recipients are not charged. The alerts include a unique ringtone and vibration.

Residents may opt out of AMBER Alerts and Imminent Threat Alerts which include severe weather, but may not opt out of Presidential Alerts which is the third category of WEAs.   
“Because WEAs are still relatively new, now is a great time to sit down with your children and older parents and talk about this new alert system.” says Kris Eide, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “We hope most residents will not opt out of AMBER and Imminent Threat Alerts.”

Currently only newer model phones are equipped to receive WEAs. It is expected that all cell phones manufactured in the future will have WEA capability.

The Minnesota AMBER Alert program was established in 2002. Since then, there have been 28 activations and 28 safe recoveries. By broadcasting information in the crucial first hours after a child abduction, AMBER Alerts enlist citizens in the effort to recover the child unharmed.