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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
May 24, 2013
12:42 PM

Michigan Amber Alert System Keeps Kids Safe Year-round

The state's nonprofit works with law enforcement and Michigan Association of Broadcasters to bring missing kids home safe, and it relies on public awareness.

Michigan Amber Alert System Keeps Kids Safe Year-round

The school year will be coming to an end soon, signaling the start of vacation season. Southeast Michigan's little ones will be out and about the neighborhood.

And, although it's a horrifying thought, sometimes children are abducted. But thanks to Michigan's Amber Alert System, which began in in 2001, many of those kids come home safe.

As the second annual Michigan Amber Alert Awareness Week comes to a close on May 25, it's important to be aware of the broadcasted alerts year-round so children in danger can be recovered quickly and safely.

What is an Amber Alert?

The national program began in 1996, after a 9-year-old Texas girl, Amber Hagerman, was kidnapped and murdered, the Michigan Amber Alert Foundation notes. It was created as an emergency plan meant to prevent this horror from befalling other children.

An Amber Alert is an emergency broadcast sent out by local television and radio networks that lets people know a child is missing and in danger, while also giving details on that child. Even electronic billboards and Michigan Department of Transportation freeway signs display Amber Alerts, says Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw, public information officer.

When somebody calls 911 or contacts their local police station to report a missing or kidnapped child, the Michigan State Police in Lansing are contacted. They then revise the criteria and issue the alert, Shaw says.

"We're kind of the clearing house," he explains, adding once the department has examined the circumstances, it sends a fax to broadcasting centers.

To qualify for an Amber Alert, the missing child must be under 17 and abducted by a stranger or acquaintance. If she suffers from a mental or physical disability, is known to be around somebody with a criminal history of child abuse or assault, or if the child was taken by the non-custodial parent "whose parental rights have been terminated," the Michigan State Police details in a press release, the alert can be issued.

Since January 2013, Amber Alerts also can be received on cellphones, Shaw adds. Wireless Emergency Alerts, as they're called, automatically go to smartphones because most are equipped with the system. People without smartphones can contact their service provider to activate it, he says.

Since the Michigan Amber Alert's creation, more than 300 children have been returned home, the Michigan Amber Alert Foundation reports – and the average time it takes to recover a missing child following the alert is about eight hours.

Facts on the system

An average of 29 Amber Alerts go out each year in the mitten state, making it the state with the highest number of alerts, the foundation says – and, according to the foundation's data, the Detroit media market sends out the most alerts in the state.

It's important for the public to be tuned in to these alerts, because they play a large role in finding missing children.

"We need the public to actually be our eyes and ears," Shaw says, noting that in most cases, many children are found thanks to citizens calling the police with a tip.

When an Amber Alert is issued, it's already gone through many steps to determine the circumstances and the severity, so Shaw stresses that police "want the public to know that these are very serious."

Tips on keeping kids safe

No parent wants to have his or her child's name in an Amber Alert. That's why the Michigan Amber Alert Foundation provides parents with the following child safety tips for parents on its website:

  • Always keep a current photo of your child
  • Know where your kids are at all times and be familiar with their friends and daily activities
  • Teach children to ask for permission from you first before going anywhere or with anyone
  • Reinforce that kids should use the "buddy system" and never travel alone
  • Teach kids that if something makes them feel uneasy or uncomfortable, they should get away quickly and tell you, or a trusted adult, what happened
  • Let kids know it's OK to be suspicious of an adult asking for assistance. Many child predators use this tactic to isolate and distract a possible victim.
  • Assure children they have a right to say "no" when they sense something is wrong
  • Ensure kids know their home address and telephone number – and know how to contact you if there's an emergency
  • Devise a secret code word your child can use during an emergency to indicate she's is in danger and needs help
  • Teach kids how to dial "911" in an emergency and, when they are speaking to the 911 operator, they should tell the person their name; speak loudly, slowly and clearly; and, most importantly, not hang up.

For the latest Michigan Amber Alerts, visit the Amber Alert website.

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