Why More Amber Alerts Will Be Waking You Up

Posted at 1:21 PM, Aug 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-09 07:16:34-04

iphone copy generic(CNN) — Many Californians were startled awake Monday night and early Tuesday morning by Amber Alerts that made screeching noises on their cell phones. Some people even took to Twitter to complain.

You better get used to it.

The alerts about a blue Nissan — possibly carrying Ethan Anderson, 8, and sister Hannah Anderson, 16 — were the first sent statewide in California under a new program that sends Amber Alerts about abducted children via text messages to millions of mobile phones. The texts are accompanied by a high-pitched squealing sound to get the phone owner’s attention.

Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was kidnapped from her California home in 1993 and later found dead, was an unlikely critic of Monday’s statewide alerts, telling CNN that while the messages were well intended, their rollout was “pretty abysmal.” He feared residents might be put off by the harsh noise and opt out of the program.

Cell phones have been receiving Amber Alerts since 2005 under a partnership between the wireless industry, the U.S. Justice Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But people had to sign up to receive the alerts — only about 700,000 did — and then designate the areas they wanted to get alerts for.

They would then only receive alerts for those chosen areas, regardless of where they were physically located. So you could be from Nebraska but vacationing in Florida, for example, and not get an Amber Alert about an abduction a dozen miles from your Tampa hotel.

That system was replaced on December 31, 2012, by the Wireless Emergency Alert program, run by FEMA, which sends free, automatic notifications to almost every phone in the surrounding area or even the state. Cellphone owners now receive Amber Alerts, as well as emergency weather alerts, based on their proximity to the emergency, not the location of their phone number. And people must opt out if they prefer not to get the alerts.

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