Mercer Island Reporter


Amber, imminent threat alerts in state via cellphones

Mercer Island Reporter Staff
May 1, 2013 · 8:48 AM

Washington residents may have noticed in the last few months receiving Amber Alerts on their cellphones as “emergency alerts.”

Beginning Jan. 1, the Wireless Emergency Alert System was launched nationally by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with the wireless carrier industry, according to a Washington State Patrol media release.

There are three different alerts issued through the Wireless Emergency Alert system (also known as CMAS, Commercial Mobile Alerting System):

• Presidential Alerts – Alerts issued by the President or designee

• Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts include severe man-made or natural disasters

• Amber Alerts - Alerts that meet the U.S. DOJ's criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child

Users may “opt out” of Amber alerts and Imminent Threat Alerts by contacting their wireless carrier or following the link www.ctia.org/consumer_info/safety/index.cfm/AID/12082 for individual carrier instructions for each device and how to turn it off.

Presidential Alerts cannot be opted out of. Residents should be cautioned, however, that “opting out” of receiving an Amber alert via the WEA will affect their ability to receive Amber alerts when they are traveling outside their cellphone numbers “home” area. The WEA uses geographic locations of cellphone devices for notifications, not cell numbers. So anyone traveling through the area of an Amber alert will receive the alert. These alerts are not text messages; instead they are point to point messages that are location driven.

The Washington State Patrol (WSP) oversees the master Amber Alert plan in Washington State using a State Amber Alert Advisory Committee comprised of key stakeholders. This committee is in the process of writing procedures for activation parameters using CMAS to ensure the public that they are receiving alerts through their cellphones only when enough information is known to assist in locating the child through these methods and the timing including the time of day is conducive to public awareness.

Last weekend, an Amber Alert was sent using the CMAS system during the early morning hours. Although the alert successfully led to the recovery of the endangered child, the WSP has received multiple complaints about the timing. It’s the WSP’s hope that people don’t “opt out” of these advisories that serve a very useful purpose in broadcasting important updates about abducted children and are committed to ensure CMAS is being used at an appropriate time of day to avoid citizens “opting out” of the CMAS program.

It’s important to remember that the reason for an Amber Alert is to assist in the recovery of an abducted child believed to be in danger. Issuing an Amber Alerts have assisted in the successful recovery of over 640 children from their abductors nationwide. That number includes last weekend’s successful recovery of Brayden Blasius who had been abducted from the state of Montana. He was located in Fife and police are giving full credit to the alert system for the successful recovery.


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