How do Amber Alerts work?

Published 08/15 2014 05:21PM

Updated 08/18 2014 10:38AM

Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – New York has very strict criteria for using an Amber Alert.

The child – or children – must be younger than 18 years old and police must have a reason to believe the child has been abducted and is in imminent danger.

Since it went into effect in 2002, the Amber Alert has been activated 52 times for incidents involving 64 children – the children have been returned alive in each in case.

New York has 12 regions and tries to send alerts to the appropriate ones.

"We don't want people to see so many of them that consciously or otherwise they stop paying attention or stop focusing on assisting in looking for the child,” said New York State Amber Alert Coordinator Gary Kelly.

Kelly says time is critical.

He says they must issue the alert as soon as they can determine that the criteria has been met.

Sometimes, they send an alert within a half hour, other times it can take hours.

The messages go out on highway signs, to toll collectors, lottery terminals, digital billboards, TV and radio broadcasts, and now through wireless emergency alerts.

“What will happen, its cell tower driven so if you're in an area with your phone and there's an Amber Alert, it could be Florida, it could be anywhere where there is an Amber Alert and you have a phone that's WEA capable, which the vast majority of phones are now, you don't have to do anything to sign up its already going to be in your phone,” Kelly said.

Kelly says it’s rewarding to see the public embracing the system to ensure that missing children are returned safely.

You can sign up to receive free Amber Alerts and missing child or college student alerts via email, text message, or fax.

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