Amber Alerts are a nuisance and a waste of taxpayer dollars
Last night, as severe thunderstorms were popping up out west in the Hill County of Texas, our weather radio alarm sounded.
Having grown up in Tornado Alley and being an old news guy, I like to stay in touch with local weather. So, the alarm directed my attention to the radio.
Instead of a new development from the National Weather Service, I got another one those annoying statewide Amber Alerts. This time it was a so-called missing child in South Texas. This morning, I heard the Amber Alert had been cancelled, because the child was no longer missing.
The Amber Alert system was born here in Texas, an emotional response to the 1996 abduction of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington. The crime remains unsolved, but politicians of all stripes rode the highly-publicized case, creating a public alert system that built expensive and driver-distracting electronic signs on our expressways in cities and piggybacked onto the U.S. government’s radio system for warning citizens of weather emergencies.
The Amber Alert movement spread to other states and created at least one special interest group that raises money and helps perpetuate the myth that Amber Alert works.
Many years ago in another life before Amber Alert, I was a broadcast news director. Our station often received requests from parents or relatives of young children to broadcast missing-child messages. We didn’t do that.
The reason was simple. Most such incidents grew out of domestic disputes involving the custody of a child, and there was never a life-threatening situation. A few reports were hoaxes. In cases involving genuine kidnappings, the police became involved and the story was reported through news coverage.
The situation has not changed in the age of Amber Alerts. Scholarly researchers have failed to find evidence to justify the continuance of Amber Alert. Most cases still involve domestic disputes which tend to be resolved very quickly, and there is no life-threatening situation. In circumstances involving actual abductions where harm could occur, traditional police practices play a more important role than Amber Alert.
Broadcast of Amber Alerts on National Weather Service radio has the potential for degrading the effectiveness of this weather warning system. If users are awakened during the night by Amber Alert alarms, some may stop using their weather service radio, placing themselves at greater risk of injury or loss of life in case of a tornado or flash flood in their area.
We know that use of the weather service radio saves lives in emergencies. Let’s drop the Amber Alerts so that the system remains as effective as possible in its primary role. While we’re at it, let’s be rational, not emotional, and drop the entire Amber Alert system.