AMBER Alert Guidelines and Legislation Timeline

amber alert guidelines and legislation timeline

The AMBER Alert system is designed to save kids lives by using a large, national resource, “the public” as extra sets of eyes. Essentially by getting the word out quickly, law enforcement can rely on tips from anonymous sources that help locate and bring kids home safely.

What is an AMBER Alert

The U.S. Department of Justice developed the AMBER Alert child abduction system in 1996. AMBER is an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, but it was also named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year old girl who was abducted and murdered in Texas that year.

The AMBER Alert program is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement, broadcasting and transportation agencies to activate an emergency bulletin with specific details of a child's abduction.

AMBER Alert Activation Guidelines

The AMBER Alert system is broadcast through the Emergency Alert System, which has historically been used for extreme weather conditions or national emergency situations.

For obvious reasons the guidelines for issuing an AMBER Alert are quite strict, and they often include a description of the child, the abductor, and the vehicle. Although each state dictates its criteria for alerts, the U.S. Justice System strongly insists on the following guidelines:

  • Law enforcement must be able to confirm an actual abduction.
  • The child must be in danger of injury or death through the abduction.
  • There must be enough details of the child, abductor, and vehicle to disseminate.
  • The child must be below the age of 18.

However, as a caveat, criteria #2 is ignored in the case of parental abductions.

US Legislation on Child Exploitation

child exploitation

The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the Justice Department is a set of federal laws that protect children from exploitation and abuse. They cover a variety of crimes and topics such as:

  • Child pornography.
  • Child sexual abuse.
  • Child support enforcement.
  • Extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children.
  • International parental kidnapping.
  • Obscenity.
  • Prostitution of children.
  • Sex offender registration.

What's the National AMBER Alert Strategy?

The National AMBER Alert Strategy was designed to support states and communities and bolster the effectiveness of the system nationwide. It was developed by the AMBER Alert System coordinator, along with an advisory group made up of members of the law enforcement community and broadcasters. The strategy includes three components.


First, you need to assess the current AMBER Alert activity. Pay close attention to the following items:

  1. Figure out how many statewide, local and regional plans there are.
  2. Compare the AMBER Alert criteria with the plans.
  3. Assess the available technology.


Next, you must create the most effective AMBER Alert network for the situation. This step entails using all the resources at your discretion and following the agenda below:

  1. Develop the guidelines on the available criteria.
  2. Establish partnerships with the local, federal and state agencies.
  3. Coordinate technology compatibility among all entities involved.



Now it is time to communicate what you have learned and the information you have compiled.

  1. Follow the guidelines to deliver your details to law enforcement and broadcasters in the area to get the AMBER Alert issued.
  2. Assist other states to enhance and improve their AMBER Alert systems.
  3. Help promote public awareness on child safety and the AMBER Alert system.

An AMBER Alert Timeline

  • 1996 - The AMBER Alert system was developed to help find abducted children quickly. It began in Texas and was named after Amber Hagerman. The idea soon spread nationally as other communities set up their own AMBER Alert programs.
  • 1996-2001 - By 2001, only four states had set up their own AMBER Alert systems.
  • 2002 - The first conference on missing, exploited and runaway children was held at the White House, bringing the AMBER Alert program into national focus. As a result, the first National AMBER Alert Coordinator, Deborah J. Daniels was appointed to oversee the federal initiative.
  • 2003 - April 30th, 2003 the President of the United States signs into law the PROTECTION Act to assist the AMBER Alert initiative and radically help law enforcement in preventing, investigating and prosecuting against violent crimes towards children.
  • 2004 - During 2004, the U.S. government provided assistance and guidance to law enforcement agencies and broadcasters to further the plan. Along with it the “guidance” criteria for AMBER Alerts was issued.
  • 2005 - Hawaii is the 50th state to adopt a statewide AMBER program. The U.S. government also worked with wireless carriers extending the AMBER Alert system to cell phones for an even broader network of coverage. Additionally, the Department of Justice initiates nationwide training for Child Abduction
  • Response Teams (CART).

CART response team

  • 2006 - In May of 2006, the Department of Justice teams up with the National
  • Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) along with the Wireless Foundation to promote ads raising public awareness of the AMBER program and encouraging the public to sign up for alerts. In July of 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice brought the AMBER Alert system to Native Americans as well.
  • 2007 - September 2007, ten Tribal sites were designated as demonstration sites for all other Indian Country Initiative communities.
  • 2008 - The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) joins the broadcast network for AMBER Alerts.
  • 2009 - All fifty states now have AMBER Alert systems in place, and the movement has spread to Canada and Mexico as well.
  • 2011 - Social media comes on board, and AMBER Alert Facebook pages are created and used as part of the network.
  • 2012 - Google integrates AMBER Alerts into their network of public alert systems.
  • 2013 - The Wireless Emergency Alerts system is activated for the AMBER program, and it goes live on Twitter using the handle @AMBERAlert. In February, an 8-month-old child is abducted and successfully rescued due to the use of the wireless system.
  • 2014 - NCMEC holds a technology forum in April and what comes out of it is the development of a Federation for Internet Alerts further strengthening the AMBER Alert system. Mexico also officially launches their own AMBER Alert system.
  • 2015 - Facebook expands its involvement by sending localized alerts to users near where abductions take place. Google also integrates AMBER Alerts into Waze. By 2015 more than 18,700 law enforcement workers are trained on the AMBER Alert system.

Can AMBER Alerts Be Issued Across State and Jurisdictional Lines?

Yes. Crossing jurisdictional lines is precisely why the national network was put into place. Abductors often take their victims out of state.

Are AMBER Alerts Issued For All Missing Children?

No, AMBER Alerts are issued only for situations that fall under the AMBER Alert criteria and it is used in only the most severe cases.

What Can I Do if My Child Goes Missing?

child is missing

First, contact local law enforcement immediately. Then contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Are There Additional Resources For Law Enforcement to Use When They Receive the Report of a Critically Missing Child?

Yes. In 2006 the U.S. Justice Department launched a training program for Child Abduction Response Teams (CART) to help local law enforcement and AMBER program teams.

What is the Wireless Emergency Alert Program?

As an extension of the Emergency Alert System, the Wireless Emergency Alert program uses mobile devices to broadcast alerts and is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

List of AMBER Alert Contact Information for Each State

State: AMBER Alert Contact Institution: Phone #:
Alabama Bureau of Investigation/Missing Children ClearinghouseAlabama 1-800-228-7688
Alaska Lt. Paul Fussey, Fairbanks Dispatch Center 907-451-5100
Arizona Trooper Chrystal Moore, Arizona Department of Public Safety 602-223-2212
Arkansas Captain Mark Hollingsworth, Arkansas State Police 501-618-8000
California Captain Jay Bart, California Highway Patrol 1-800-TELL-CHP (1-800-835-5247)
Colorado Magdalena Fitzgerald, Colorado Bureau of Investigation 303-239-4251
Connecticut Lt. Michael Kostrzewa, Connecticut State Police 860-685-8190
Delaware Sgt. Richard Bratz, Delaware State Police Communicationse 302-739-5901
Florida Lt. Jimmie Thompson, Metropolitan Police Department 202-727-9099
Georgia Seth Montgomery, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Missing Children Information Clearinghouse 1-888-356-4774
Hawaii Missing Child Center-Hawaii, Department of the Attorney General 808-753-9797
Idaho Dawn Peck, Idaho State Police 208-884-7000
Illinois Craig Burge, Illinois State Police 1-800-843-5763
Indiana First Sergeant Shea Reliford, Indiana State Police Clearinghouse 800-831-8953
Iowa Sgt. Tom Lampe, Iowa State Patrol Communications 515-323-4360
Kansas William Smith, Kansas Bureau of Investigation 785-296-8262
1-800-KS CRIME
Kentucky Lt Bradley Stotts, Kentucky State Police 502-564-0838
Louisiana Sgt. Stacey Pearson, Louisiana State Police, Troop F 318-345-0000
Maine Lt. Brian McDonough, Maine State Police 207-624-7076
Maryland Sgt. Debbie Flory, Maryland State Police 410-653-4200
Massachusetts Trooper Nicole Morrell, Massachusetts State Police 508-820-2121
Michigan D/Sgt. Sarah Krebs, Michigan State Police 1-800-525-5555
Minnesota Kris Rush, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension 651-793-7000
Mississippi Captain Wayne Wasson, Mississippi Highway Patrol 601-987-1212 or 1530
Missouri Captain Michael Turner, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Troop F 573-751-1000
Montana Jennifer Viets, CJIN Program Manager, Montana Department of Justice 406-444-2800
Nebraska Sgt. Jeromy McCoy, Nebraska State Patrol 308-385-6000
Nevada Nevada Highway Patrol 775-687-0400
New Hampshire Sara Hennessey, New Hampshire State Police 603-271-3636
New Jersey DSFC William Tietjan, New Jersey State Police 609-882-2000
New Mexico Regina Chacon, New Mexico State Police 505-827-9300
New York Senior Investigator Gary B. Kelly, New York State Police, NYSP Special Victims Unit, (The NYS AMBER Alert Coordinator’s Office) 518-457-6811
North Carolina Nona Best, North Carolina Center for Missing Persons 1-800-522-5437
North Dakota Lt. Mike Roark, North Dakota State Police 701-328-9921
Ohio Captain Kenneth Kocab, Department of Public Safety, Emergency Operations Center 614-466-2660
Oklahoma Gene Thaxton, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Communications Center 405-425-2323
Oregon Bob Rector (Southern Command Center), Oregon State Police Communications Center 503-375-3555
Pennsylvania Trooper Robert Levan, Pennsylvania State Police 717-346-5430
Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Police Department 787-782-9006
Rhode Island Lt. Ernest McKenney, Rhode Island State Police 401-444-1000
South Carolina Alex Cataldo, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) 803-737-9000
South Dakota Bonnie Feller Hagen, Division of Criminal Intelligence Analyst 605-773-7281
Pierre State Radio
Tennessee James R. Coughlin, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation 615-744-4000
Texas Ben Patterson, Texas Department of Public Safety (512) 424-2208
Utah Gina McNeil, Utah Department of Public Safety 801-652-6287
Vermont Lt. Kevin Lane, Vermont State Police 802-875-2112
Virginia First Sgt. K. Scott Downs, Virginia State Police – Missing Children’s Clearinghouse 804-674-2026
U.S.Virgin Islands U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department 340-772-9111
Washington Carri Gordon, Washington State Patrol 360-704-2404
West Virginia Sgt. James Kozik, West Virginia State Police 304-746-2158
Wisconsin Michelle DuBois, Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Missing & Exploited Children 608-266-1671
Wyoming Crystal McGuire, Wyoming Highway Patrol 307-777-4237