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AMBER Alert, Best Practices Guide for Broadcasters and Other Media Outlets

Need for a Partnership

AMBER Alert's success is tied directly to the quality of the partnership established among law enforcement agencies, broadcast and other media outlets, departments of transportation, state and federal officials, and various civic and political leaders. Each partner is important, and each has a unique role to play. Similarly, each partnership has its unique characteristics based on the community in which it was created, yet each forms an essential link in the larger fabric of the nation's AMBER Alert program.

At the most basic level, partners need to understand their exact responsibilities in their community's AMBER Alert recovery plan. Partners can avoid duplication of effort if they understand the exact responsibilities of their colleagues as well.

Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs)

The process of creating a local, state, or regional AMBER Alert plan is complex, and no two plans will evolve in exactly the same way. Even so, officials in one community can find it helpful to learn about the issues that other communities have confronted and the solutions they found to resolve them. Some elements are common to all plans, and a clear, precise, and thorough definition of each partner's roles and responsibilities is one such element. To ensure a smoothly running program, potential legal issues or concerns should be explored and resolved in advance, if at all possible. A memorandum of understanding, or MOU, can form the basis for long-term agreement on roles and responsibilities before a final AMBER Alert plan is enacted. AMBER coordinators and their partners agree that, at a minimum, an MOU should detail the following:

  • Specific roles of all the partners, including law enforcement agencies, broadcast and other media outlets, departments of transportation, various governmental organizations, nonprofit agencies, and other organizations with a child welfare focus.

  • A requirement that law enforcement confirm that an abduction has taken place and that the risk of harm to the child is significant.

  • Criteria for ensuring that key information has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system and corresponding state or local databases before an AMBER Alert is requested.

  • Criteria for activation of an AMBER Alert, including the age of the child and other critical information.

  • Confidential systems and codes for use by law enforcement and broadcasters in activating an AMBER Alert.

  • A system for disseminating Alerts, with regular tests to ensure the system's integrity.

  • Appropriate wording to be used in disseminating an AMBER Alert to the public.

  • Procedures for determining the frequency of broadcast Alerts, how long the Alerts should continue, and when and how Alerts should be deactivated.

  • Procedures for determining the kind of Alert to be used, such as an EAS activation, a "crawl" at the bottom of a television screen, or a news announcement.

  • The role of secondary media outlets, such as newspapers and other print media.

  • The role of other secondary outlets, such as taxi companies, public transportation systems, and cable or power companies.

  • The use of road signs, if available, and the wording to be used to tie the information back to broadcast Alerts.

  • A mechanism for "all-clear" notifications.

After-Action Reports

AMBER coordinators and their partners identified a second key element common to effective plans: a formal process evaluation following every Alert activation to assess process issues, including the quality of communication and technology. The best plans require that a follow-up meeting of key partners be scheduled after every Alert activation to discuss these questions:

  • How successful was the Alert activation process? What worked well? What needs attention?

  • How effectively did the equipment function?

  • Did any expected problems arise during the Alert process, and what was done to resolve them?

  • Did any expected gaps surface during the Alert—such as the need for additional training, equipment, or other technology requirements—that need to be addressed?

  • Does the plan need to be changed in any way in the wake of the Alert activation?

These are just some of the issues that should be discussed during the After-Action review to ensure that the AMBER Alert program is operating as specified in the MOU and agreed on by partner agencies and organizations.

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