Opinion: Think twice before you opt out; Amber Alert system needs the numbers
Please think about staying in the Amber Alert system.
Wire stories noted last week that some users were irritated by the squealing alarm and text message that came through their cellphones. Our fear is that some folks might opt out of receiving the messages, and we think that would be a terrible shame.
The Amber Alert program was created in 1996 and named after Amber Hagerman, 9, who was abducted and killed in Texas. For years, alerts went out only through radio, television or roadside signage on major highways.
Now, more than 90 percent of adult Americans have a cellphone, it was reported. It's only logical that if you want to reach the widest audience possible as quickly as possible, you use digital technology.
The wireless program was launched in 2005, but there were recently a couple changes:
• Now, instead of being sent as simple text messages, the alerts are transmitted on an exclusive frequency so messages can be received by large masses of people — tens of thousands at the same time.
• Cellphone users are now automatically signed up but can opt out if they don't like it.
Two children abducted
An alert was sent out late on Monday evening last week by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department to a wide area, including Northern California.
It was believed that a man in that county killed a mother and one child Sunday and abducted two others, an 8-year-old boy and his 16-year-old sister. (As it ended up, the suspect had killed the mother and son and had abducted the sister; the suspect, James Lee DiMaggio, was killed by an FBI agent in Idaho over the weekend, and the girl, Hannah Anderson, was rescued.)
There were evidently a few bugs in the system. Some wonder why it took so long to use the cellphone notification system; some users reported receiving multiple alerts. Some users who received the message wondered what the use was — they were in their homes, late at night, so how could they be of assistance? And some found the alarm, coupled with the feeling of futility, jarring. None of that should be the point.
Of course, the alert is useless to all but a minute fraction of users — it will only be of use to you if you're out and about and able see a vehicle or people matching the descriptions. That could be just a few people out of tens of millions. But that's OK.
The alerts now can reach most of the 300 million-plus active cellphones in the U.S. Millions in California. The power of the system is the numbers involved and the Amber Alert program has had some success.
Think before opting out
That first systemwide alert went out about 11 p.m. a week ago Monday. If the sound was on, you heard a squealing noise directing your attention to a message about the suspected child abduction.
We're asking that those who found the alarm irritating give it some thought before opting out of the program.
The chances that you will encounter a kidnapper are slight; but the system needs cooperation from all parts of the country, including the Colusa County area.
It's not going to happen that often — police are only authorized to send out alerts for kidnapped children; and local law enforcement must work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to determine whether an alert should be issued and in what areas it should be issued.
It's alarming, but it's not frivolous. Please think twice if you're considering opting out.
This opinion was authored by editorial management of Tri-County Newspapers. Send replies and letters to email@example.com.