Today marks the national 10th anniversary of the Amber Alert system. Iowa Department of Public Safety spokesman Jim Saunders says the Amber Alert system got its start in Texas. He says in 1996 Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to set up a communications network in honor of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman who had been kidnapped and brutally murdered in Arlington, Texas. Iowa set up its Amber Alert system in 2003. He says Iowa’s had 10 Amber Alert activations since the plan was put in place in March of 2003, and nationally it’s estimated that 214 kids have been saved as a result of the Amber Alert programs.
The Iowa Amber Alert system sends out messages on abducted children through broadcasters, signs on the highways, the national weather service and lottery machines. Saunders says they’re constantly looking for new ways to use technology to speed the process. Saunders says it’s critical to get the information out as quickly as possible. Saunders says a newest addition to the system tries to take advantage of all the cellphones out there. Saunders says you can log on to wirelessalerts.org and register your number, and then when an Amber Alert is issued, you’ll get a text message on your cellphone. Saunders says everyone is encouraged to sign on and he says they’re asking all state employees to put their cellphones on the system.
Saunders says activities today will try to raise awareness of the Amber Alert system — and an awareness to possibly help prevent the need to use the system. He says that means making parents and children know they need to be aware of their surroundings and that there are things they can do to make themselves safe. As part of Amber Alert Day in Iowa, the Iowa State Patrol has partnered with the Iowa Department of Education to coordinate an annual poster contest for fifth graders.