AMBER Alerts via WEA

Formerly known as the Wireless AMBER Alert™ program, AMBER Alerts are now a part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program. Millions of cellphone users across the country receive these free, automatic text-like alerts about abducted children whose lives are in danger in their area as part of the WEA program.

CTIA and the wireless industry joined the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer WEA to supplement the existing Emergency Alert System. Consumers with WEA-capable wireless devices and WEA service in their areas are automatically enrolled to receive AMBER Alerts for free, along with the Presidential and Imminent Threat Alerts.

Unlike Wireless AMBER Alerts, the WEA AMBER Alerts use the latest technology. Even though these alerts appear on a person's mobile device similar to a text message, WEA AMBER Alerts are not text messages. There are two fundamental reasons why WEA AMBER Alerts are unique:

  1. WEA AMBER Alerts use a different kind of technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subjected to potential congestion (or delays) on wireless networks. 
  2. WEA AMBER Alerts use a point-to-multipoint system, which means alert messages will be sent to those within a targeted area, unlike text messages which are not location aware. For example, if a Chicago resident was visiting Boston and a WEA AMBER Alert was issued in Boston, the subscriber would receive the alert. At the same time, if an alert was issued in Chicago, the subscriber would not receive it while in Boston.

Since Wireless AMBER Alerts transitioned to WEA at the end of 2012, there are already several stories where these alerts safely returned kids to their families. For example:

  • The first AMBER Alert via WEA was sent to Minneapolis, MN residents. Within minutes, a teenager who received the alert, called 911 leading police to safely recover the abducted child. 
  • Southern California residents first received an AMBER Alert via WEA for an abducted teen. Thanks to tips from individuals who saw the alerts on their wireless devices as well as from televisions and radio stations, the alert was expanded to the rest of California as well as other states. Several days later, the teen was safely recovered in Boise, ID.

Statistics show that the first three hours after an abduction are the most critical in recovery efforts, and being able to quickly engage the public in the search for an abducted child can help law enforcement bring that child home safely. The Office of Justice Program's AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert Program, named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, is a voluntary partnership among law enforcement agencies, the wireless industry, transportation officials, broadcasters and other entities to activate an urgent bulletin to find abducted children. Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary is the National AMBER Alert Coordinator responsible for this national network.

Before Wireless AMBER Alerts, AMBER Alerts were issued via television, radio and Department of Transportation highway signs when a child was believed to have been abducted and in extreme danger. The wireless industry launched the Wireless AMBER Alerts program in 2005 because its members believed its technology could expand the Alerts' reach to aid in the recovery of abducted children.

The 700,000 wireless customers currently enrolled in Wireless AMBER Alerts will receive text messages about the transition and alternative sources for receiving AMBER Alerts.

Last Updated: December 2013

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