Amber Alerts come to cell phones

Posted at: 04/25/2013 12:11 PM
Updated at: 04/25/2013 5:23 PM
By: Dan Bazile

LATHAM -- Police said engaging the public when a child is abducted is extremely important. They feel adding cell phones to the mix will give them more eyes and ears to help them close in on kidnappers. When activated, your cell phone will make a sound, followed by what looks like a full screen text message.

"It's limited. The information they're going to get is limited to 90 characters," said New York State Police Senior Investigator Gray Kelly.

But it's enough to give police a boost as they search for an abducted child. Kelly said the first three hours of a missing child are critical and that's why alerting the public is the key to success.

"We've had 43 Amber Alert activations since the program started in 2002, involving 52 children," Kelly said. "Everyone of those children have been safely recovered and safely returned home."

In all those cases, countless leads came from the public, according to Kelly. And that was just TV, radio, police and social media spreading the word. With cell phones, Kelly said the public will be even more engaged in the process. The new feature is already part of every cell phone that is Wireless Emergency Alerts or WEA capable.

"It works off cell towers. So if you have a phone that has WEA capability, and you're on vacation in California with your family and there's an Amber Alert in California, you're going to get the information," Kelly said.

WEA is part of a national system. The message doesn't cost you anything. By the end of 2013 all cell phones are expected to have this capability.

The new cell phone alert system is not to be confused with NY-Alert. That is a different notification system where you can subscribe online and customize your alerts for your cell phone.