Turns Out Texts About Abducted Children are Super Annoying

Illustration for article titled Turns Out Texts About Abducted Children are Super Annoying

The next time you wake up in a cold sweat after a terrifying nightmare about being kidnapped, it might not be the fault of your crazy neuroses/reading too many inappropriate thrillers as a child. A new national Amber Alert system rolled out earlier this month to millions of cell phones around the country, and the kinks haven't been worked out yet, which means that unwitting people are getting vague, unhelpful texts at all hours of the night.


From the AP:

Lisa Rott was jolted from her sleep at 1:44 a.m. earlier this month in her Sarasota, Fla. home. A high-pitched tone sounded in spurts for about 10 seconds while her phone buzzed multiple times.

Initially Roth, 50, was worried something had happened to her elderly mother. Then she saw the message: "Emergency Alert: Amber Alert. An Amber Alert has been issued in your area. Please check local media."

"I thought it was spam," said Rott, who works for AT&T as a process engineer. And because her cell phone has a New Jersey number, she wasn't sure exactly where the alert originated. The next morning Rott searched online for both New Jersey and Florida incidents yielding one likely possibility - hours away from her home.

"What are we supposed to do?" Roth said. "They're not telling us what to do, they're not even telling us what to look for in our area."


FEMA launched the initiative in an effort to "update the way it reaches people with new technologies." But it doesn't take a Snapchatting Millennial to pinpoint the current problems here. The overall effectiveness of the Amber Alert system is arguable, but if you see an Amber Alert billboard on the freeway, at least it usually gives you the alleged abductor's license plate number and car model, or a more specific location. Receiving a text that just tells you something's gone down is kind of like saying, newsflash: bad shit happened near you! And most people don't need unsolicited text messages to know that.

"My biggest concern is that people, if they don't understand what it means ... will opt out of the program," said Bob Hoever, a director at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. "And it's critical that we continue to have their participation."

But some officials sound more excited about the prospect of being able to group text EVERYONE:

Los Angeles Police Department Det. Kevin Coffey trained local law enforcement officers on the alerts last week and found most were surprised by the new reach they already have.

"We've never had this ability," Coffey said. "We're going to have instantaneous connectivity with every person with a cell phone within our county and potentially multiple counties in the state."


Can't wait for the first accidental cop mass-sext.


Image via Mastepanov Pavel/Shutterstock.

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hercules q. einstein

Ugh, this needs to be handled better. Disclosure: my dad helped draft the legislation for the Amber Alert and I worked at the NCMEC for many years. These texts need to be distributed regionally and really pinpointed to where they think the kid might be. With identifying details. It loses it's effectiveness when it goes to large groups in a huge geographic range or is worded too vaguely.

And to be brutally honest, they should only be sent for cases where the child is endangered - a non-abusive parent that doesn't have custody snatches their kid? No Amber Alert. Runaway? No. Unless they ran away with a murderer or possibly if they are under 13. Stranger abduction - of course. Too many Amber Alerts and people will get fatigued and opt out.

But I do think these programs work. Remember those annoying cards you'd get in the mail with an ad for carpet cleaning on one side and a missing kid on the other? One out of five of those kids were found JUST because of that card (I use past tense because I don't know if these mailers still exist).