Following the 1996 kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Texas, broadcasters and local police in the Dallas-Fort Worth area established the AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert System—an early-warning system to help find abducted children. The AMBER Alert program has since evolved into a nationwide partnership among law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, state transportation agencies, the wireless industry, and Internet service providers. Law enforcement agencies issue an alert after determining that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger. The system relies on OJJDP funding to train AMBER Alert partners and encourage public participation to help locate missing children.
Amber’s abduction and murder fundamentally changed how searches for missing children are conducted. The nation observes National AMBER Alert Awareness Day annually on January 13 to honor Amber’s memory and heighten awareness about child abduction. It also serves as a reminder that hope can come from heartbreak. The AMBER Alert network now spans all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Indian country, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and extends beyond the United States to 31 other countries. As of January 2, 2023, the AMBER Alert system has successfully recovered 1,127 children; another 131 children have been rescued due to wireless emergency alerts—text messages sent by government authorities directly to cell phones.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children serves as a clearinghouse for the AMBER Alert program and helps disseminate information about the program. In fiscal year 2022, OJJDP provided $38.7 million to the center, and it received an additional $6 million through an interagency agreement between OJJDP and the U.S. Secret Service.
OJJDP's AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program helps improve the nation’s response to missing and abducted children. In fiscal year 2022, OJJDP awarded $4.4 million to fund resources for law enforcement and child protection professionals to increase collaboration, improve their skills, and develop best practices to recover missing and abducted children.
In 2015, the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program launched the AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative to help Tribal communities implement AMBER Alert plans through targeted collaboration with state plans. Enactment of the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act in 2018 provided funding to help Tribes participate in state AMBER Alert programs. Before then, many Tribal communities lacked the infrastructure to respond to cases of endangered, missing, and abducted children, a gap made clear after the 2016 murder of Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old from the Navajo Nation. Since 2018, OJJDP has aggressively supported Tribes’ efforts to integrate their systems with state plans. Today, more than 100 Tribes are able to use their state plans.
In March 2022, the AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative began supplying Tribal law enforcement agencies with computers and other technology to strengthen their ability to respond to and investigate reports of endangered, missing, or abducted children. Each 141-pound toolkit includes a Toughbook tablet, webcam, digital camera, wireless printer/scanner, and other equipment. OJJDP intends to deliver 150 toolkits to Tribal communities that administer their own AMBER Alert programs or participate in regional or state plans.
Unfortunately, many Tribal communities lack access to high-speed Internet service, limiting their ability to make use of the technology toolkits while in the field. The AMBER Alert in Indian Country initiative is partnering with FirstNet Authority to offer high-speed, wireless Internet service to select Tribes. FirstNet is an independent authority established by Congress to develop a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety.
OJJDP’s AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program website includes the AMBER Alert Best Practices for Public Information Officers guide and other resources. Find training opportunities on the National Criminal Justice Training Center website.