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Amber Alert test conducted statewide

Early-morning motorists on Idaho’s interstates saw it for only about a minute. Television viewers saw the scrolling message briefly at the bottom of their screen while they watched infomercials, sitcom reruns or B-rated movies.

At 1:40 a.m. Tuesday (MDT), while most Idahoans slept soundly, the state’s Amber Alert System was thoroughly tested – from variable message boards on I-84 in southern Idaho to I-90 in Kootenai County, and on television and radio stations statewide.

The early-morning experiment enabled a full test without unnecessarily alarming motorists and television viewers.

Coordinated by the Idaho Bureau of Disaster Services (Homeland Security), the message was relayed to the State Communications Center in Meridian for activation. Other activation centers included the Idaho State Police in Pocatello for eastern Idaho; Central Idaho Regional Communications Center in Jerome for central Idaho; and the Kootenai County 911 Center in Coeur d’Alene for northern Idaho, said Kathy Bessey, a supervisor at the State Communications center.

Portions of Malheur County in Oregon, and Washington’s Whitman and Spokane counties also participated.

The Idaho Lottery system was tested Monday. Actual alert messages would be printed on the backs of lottery tickets and posted at approximately 900 lottery ticket outlets in Idaho. The Boise office of the National Weather Service serves as a back-up to State Communications in southwest Idaho. It was not involved in the actual test this week.

The state’s Emergency Alert System (EAS), a network that provides a broad range of emergency information – from thunderstorms and rain to floods – is used to disseminate the message, explains Vicki Miller, coordinator for the Bureau of Disaster Services. Participation by radio and television stations is voluntary.

Many had to acquire new software during the past year to upgrade their systems and receive the Amber Alert code.

The message was, in part: “This is a test of the Idaho Amber Alert System. In the event of an actual child abduction emergency, important information would have been relayed through this channel or station…”

The test was initiated with a mock abduction scenario in Pocatello. The process included verification that information satisfied alert criteria, notification of Amber Alert partners, message dissemination, variable message sign tests, and tests of the backup notification system.

From the initial call to Pocatello to implementation, the test took about six minutes, Miller said. Alerts appeared on ITD’s variable message signs after about four minutes.

Four criteria must be met before information is released over the Amber Alert System, Bessey explains.

  1. A confirmed abduction must have taken place,
  2. The victim must be 18 years of age or younger or a person with mental or physical disability,
  3. The victim must be reasonably believed by local law enforcement to be in imminent danger of serious bodily injury of death, and
  4. Information is available that, if disseminated to the general public, could assist in the safe recovery of the victim.

A test was conducted last fall when Idaho’s Amber Alert System was initiated. It revealed a number of procedures that needed to be refined or clarified. Tuesday’s test went off without a major problem, Bessey said.

“I consider this test successful in that it went out to all broadcast stations in Idaho,” Miller added. “There was a lot better response than last time. We also were able to identify shortfalls in the EAS system, which we will rectify.”

History of the Amber Alert
The AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Plan was created in 1996 as a powerful legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, a bright little girl who was kidnapped and brutally murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas.

The tragedy shocked and outraged the entire community. Residents contacted radio stations in the Dallas area and suggested they broadcast special “alerts” over the airwaves so that they could help prevent such incidents in the future.

In response to the community’s concern for the safety of local children, the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Radio Managers teamed up with local law enforcement agencies in northern Texas and developed this innovative early warning system to help find abducted children. Statistics show that, when abducted, a child’s greatest enemy is time.

In April 2003, President Bush signed Amber Alert legislation making it a national program.

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