Amber Alerts arrive wirelessly

Starting today, cellular wireless subscribers can receive Amber Alerts about missing or abducted children and teenagers through a new initiative between the wireless industry and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Subscribers capable of receiving text messages and whose provider is part of the Wireless Amber Alerts Initiative can opt in to receive alerts by registering at www.wirelessamberalerts.org or through their carrier's Web site. Subscribers can designate up to five geographic areas where alerts could be issued.

Participating wireless carriers include Alltel, Cingular Wireless, Dobson Communications, Nextel Communications, RCC/Unicel, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless.

"Currently, alerts are broadcast by television and radio outlets and on some electronic highway signs," Steve Largent, president and chief executive officer of CTIA-The Wireless Association and a former congressman, said in a press release. "With more than 60 percent of Americans owning wireless devices, and seldom going anywhere without them, this initiative will significantly increase the reach of the Amber Alert program by notifying people -- wherever they are -- of the emergency situation."

In recent years, NCMEC, government and private sector officials and other advocates have teamed up to enhance the reach of Amber Alerts across the nation. For example, three years ago America Online and another company called Fine Point Technologies partnered with NCMEC to provide subscribers with alerts via e-mail, mobile phones, pagers, or instant messaging.

Two years ago, President Bush singed the Protect Act of 2003 to establish a nationwide communications network, allocating millions of dollars from the Justice and Transportation departments to expand the then 91 local, regional and statewide programs. Advocates have also created a Web-based system to broadcast alerts nationwide.

Recently, NCMEC, the Justice Department and Intrado, which provides integrated data and telecommunications solutions, launched a system to redistribute Amber Alerts to secondary distributors, such as online service providers.

In the wireless initiative, Syniverse Technologies donated the infrastructure -- in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, SunGard, Veritas Software, Verizon Information Technology LLC, and Integrated Research -- to the Wireless Foundation, which is a non-profit organization formed by CTIA's member companies.

The Amber Alert program, created in 1996, was named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas. To date, more than 200 children have been successfully recovered as a direct result of Amber Alerts.

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