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

Content of Message

By their very nature, AMBER Alert messages must be concise and to the point. They also must be immediately understood, easily assimilated, and quickly disseminated.

Some communities, regions, and target audiences are better approached at a particular time of day or in a particular manner in order to maximize the effectiveness of the message. Who better than local broadcast media understand the particular needs of their target audience?

The Message

Broadcasters understand that the content of the AMBER Alert message will have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the Alert. Except under extraordinary circumstances, an AMBER Alert message should be no longer than one to four sentences, using the fewest words possible without compromising clarity.

Ideally, the message should contain as many of the following elements as possible:

  • Specific information about the day, time, and location of the incident and other details if available.

  • The name, age, and sex of the abducted child.

  • A physical description of the abducted child (e.g., height, weight, birthmarks, hair color, eye color, clothing, and other physical information).

  • The name, age, and sex of the suspect.

  • A physical description of the suspect (e.g., height, weight, birthmarks, hair color, eye color, clothing, and other physical information).

  • Confirmation (if applicable) that the suspect is listed on a state sex offender registry.

  • A description of the suspect's vehicle (if applicable), including make, model, color, and year.

  • The license tag number of the suspect's vehicle, including state of issuance.

  • Toll-free telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for the public to use to contact authorities if the suspect or child is spotted.

In addition, the following information may be helpful to include:

  • Roads and highways that the suspect might use.

  • Other transportation methods, such as taxi, bus, train, or airplane, that the suspect may use.

  • The town, community, or state where the suspect and abducted child may be traveling.

  • Confirmation that law enforcement considers the child to be in imminent danger.

  • Reasons why law enforcement considers the child to be in danger.

  • Reasons why law enforcement thinks the suspect is traveling to a particular destination or using a particular route.

Sensitivity to the Audience

Targeting key audiences is an important aspect of an AMBER Alert. The goal is to notify the people who will most likely be in a position to use the information to aid in the child's recovery.

Broadcast media representatives understand the power of words and the consequences of their indiscriminate use. Consequently, AMBER Alert messages must be carefully constructed to avoid using any word or phrase that might possibly alienate someone who might otherwise help. Particular care should be given to any mention of the following:

  • Race or nationality (unless pertinent to a physical description).

  • Physical or mental disabilities (unless pertinent to a physical description).

  • Sexual preference (except where applicable, such as being listed on a state sex offender registry).

  • Political affiliation.

  • Religious preference.

  • Other sensitive information that has no bearing on locating an abducted child.
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