Driving home from the airport, after the longest day ever, my sister and husband both received an Amber Alert on their iPhones that was like a text: no sound, just a message. I didn’t get mine until a few minutes later when it came over, announced by the sound used for the Emergency Broadcast System. Like many people who received it, it scared me. My husband first complained that if this was a San Diego-area abduction, why text everyone in the state, and was the system smart enough to know where people were at that time, so that if you were far away from California – we had just returned from New Jersey – it would be additionally annoying and useless to get an alert.
My response: if something happened to my kids, I’d want everyone to know. Every parent has experienced an instant of pure fear when they turn around and cannot find their child, but these cases are the rare ones when the child was taken and in danger, not just wandering off in a different part of Target. This is the chance to save a kid’s life – or in this case, two lives, with two kids taken. This is done when the victim(s) is facing great bodily harm. Sorry the noise may have startled you, but a child could be facing death. Waiting until business hours to issue an alert makes no sense. The odds are not good that I’ll see the car or people in question, but unless hiding in an underground bunker, someone has seen these people and may be the one to make the connection. If they sent these for every single Amber Alert, it would be annoying and people would quickly become immune to them, but saving the major alert for a serious situation where the child could have been taken far away, is perfectly fine with me.
There should be a better noise, though. For a 9-11 event or a coming tornado, let’s go with the heart-stopping emergency broadcast sound, but for something less than a run-for-your-lives emergency, maybe a softer sound that still gets attention without striking fear into everyone.
What we know a few hours later is that it was activated statewide (possibly using cell tower info and not area codes because some people out of state and without California numbers received it, too) because the abductor was thought to be headed either to Texas or Canada and we know that the kids are in serious danger. The suspect is not a parent, which is generally the biggest complaint about the Amber Alert system. You’re a kid whose mom has been killed, along with another child (identity unknown at this point), and you’ve been taken by the likely murderer – you’d want to think that some superhero is out to save you. That is real fear, not the two seconds that my heart jumped after hearing the alert signal.
Congratulations to Californians, because while Twitter lit up with complainers (or idiots who asked if they were the only one who received the alert, as if it was a super targeted alert sent to a single 20 year old in Fresno), at least we knew what an Amber Alert was. When this happened in Florida, many tweets asked what an Amber Alert meant. In the Florida case, as in a Michigan case, the children were safely recovered. Let’s hope the same for the two kids kidnapped in San Diego.
There is a way to opt out, and after last night, I feel for the next victim requiring an activation of the broad alert because many people may have disabled Amber Alert notifications.