Back from its August recess, Congress considers national Amber Alert

PBy Joseph Hadfield
The Daily Universe

pROVO, Utah (U-WIRE) – As Congress resumes work Tuesday after the August recess, one hot topic proposed is a nationwide alert system to accelerate searches for abducted children.

A national Amber Alert system has been proposed in the Senate after several local alert systems, such as Utah’s Rachael Alert, successfully recovered kidnapping victims.

“As of today, 26 children have been saved,” said Paul Murphy, of the Utah attorney general’s office. “A lot more people are trying to use these alert systems.”

Utah’s system began operation April 2 and was activated just two months later with the abduction of Elizabeth Smart.

Officials from other states noticed how quickly Rachael Alert spread information about the kidnapping.

“Our office received calls from all over the country to set up a similar system,” Murphy said. “California called us to set up a system and saved three or four kids using it.”

Since Utah opened the Rachael Alert, seven more states have adopted alert systems.

The Senate bill proposes to link these systems across the nation, but 34 states do not yet have operating systems.

“The national plan is being promoted to provide incentive to develop systems locally and also to provide a uniform system to communicate,” said Joann Donnellan of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

When law enforcement officials activate Rachael Alert, information about the abduction is sent to all radio and television stations in the state for immediate broadcast.

Murphy said Utah’s system is now expanding to include electronic highway signs, trucking associations, ports of entry and the Bureau of Criminal Identification, which can quickly print 5,000 fliers throughout the state.

But state-run systems become powerless once a kidnapper leaves the state.

“This would provide a quick and easy system for Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada to be notified if a child is taken across state lines,” Donnellan said.

Last week, Elizabeth Smart’s father endorsed the legislation at a news conference with Utah Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Jim Matheson.

“I think this is a very wise piece of legislation,” said Matheson, who plans to sponsor a similar bill in the House.

Donnellan said the NCMEC has been promoting this for the last two years, and it finally has enough support to make it through Congress.

“This is a sort of nonpartisan issue; everybody cares about our nation’s kids,” Donnellan said.

“Hopefully they will craft it carefully and it won’t be a problem making it through the system.”

Although Murphy is wary of how a national plan would affect Rachael Alert, he also supports the idea.

“It needs to be run on a local level,” Murphy said. “We should have a big national umbrella.”