Amber alerts will go to the Web

Washington state is leading the charge to find and rescue abducted children. Through a public-private partnership, Washington is working with Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia and a nonprofit group to move Amber alerts from solely broadcast media to the Web to publicize missing children.

The nonprofit, Engaging & Empowering Citizenship/Earth 911 of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Washington's Information Services Department are spearheading development of a two-part portal for citizens and law enforcement officials. The Web site will make publicizing an alert much easier and more exact, while letting state police and other authorities upload and download data in a more standard way.

John Specht, a project manager for the Amber Alert initiative in the Information Services Department, said the consortium is developing the site with input from state and federal government agencies as well as the private sector. The Justice and Homeland Security departments are working on Amber Alert protocols that would be included in the system, Specht said.

Good for all 50

'We are developing a prototype based on general requirements, and then we will make improvements after testing it out,' he said. 'The open architecture will have scalability so many, if not all, the states can use it.'

The initial prototype was finished in mid-May and will be tested through this month, Specht said.
The public portion will let citizens, media and other businesses sign up to receive Amber Alert messages and then link to the portal through their own Web sites, Specht said. The site eventually will send alerts to pagers, cell phones and handheld computers. During the pilot, however, alerts will go out only through cell phones, via fax and by regular e-mail.

Law enforcement officials will use the secure part of the portal to activate alerts through a standard electronic form and pull data about the child from one state's site to another, Specht said.

Chris Warner, chief executive officer of Earth 911, said the system uses Web services and Extensible Markup Language to push and pull data stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database management system.

The system will have mapping software from ESRI of Redlands, Calif. All the software resides on Compaq ProLiant DL 580 servers.

'When an alert is activated, the system will build a radius of where the child might be, based on an algorithm developed by ESRI,' Warner said. 'The map will show how far the child might have gone depending on whether it was near a highway or local streets. Then the map automatically updates as time goes by.'

Washington allocated $75,000 for the portal, and Earth 911 has donated more than $500,000 worth of technology to the project, Specht said. States are encouraged to donate funds to help build the system, but Specht said there is no cost to participate.

ESRI, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp. also donated hardware and software, he said.

Warner said the group has applied for a grant from the Justice Department to expand the pilot to 10 states. Arizona, California and Colorado have shown interest in joining.

'We are building a system that any state can connect to using commercial technology,' Warner said

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