Around 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning, many New Yorkers were unceremoniously yanked from their dreams by the sounds of their phones blaring. A child was missing and in imminent danger, so an AMBER alert was issued, triggering the mass wake-up call.
"I literally thought the city was under attack,"
In reality, a 7-month-old boy's mom had kidnapped him during a supervised visit at a foster case facility. He was found, safe and sound, by Wednesday afternoon.
Since Dec. 31, 2012, AMBER alerts have been part of the national Wireless Emergency Alert program, which is also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert Service. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and other U.S. carriers participate in the Wireless Emergency Alert program. This is the same system which sends you alerts of imminent threats, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, evacuation orders, and more. It can also be used for alerts sent by the president of the United States, or his or her designee.
AMBER alerts issued through this system are up to 90 characters long and include basic information which indicates that an AMBER alert has indeed been issued for the area you're in and may include a license plate or other details about any vehicles which may have been used in an abduction. The alerts look a lot like text messages, though they do not incur any charges or count against any text message quotas you may have on your wireless plan.
Additionally, unlike text messages, these alerts are location-aware. They are sent using a technology which ensures that they are delivered immediately to individuals in a specific area. (This means that you could be a Floridian with a California cellphone number and visiting New York City, but still receive a relevant alert.)