California emergency officials and the leader of the state Assembly are urging Californians not to disable emergency alerts from their cell phones, saying the rescue over the weekend of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson proves how useful the text messages can be.
An FBI agent rescued the teen from a remote wooded area of Idaho on Saturday and killed her abductor after officials had issued Amber Alerts with information about the car they believed the suspect was driving. The text alert went out on cell phones across California last Monday night, accompanied by a blaring buzz on many phone models.
The message prompted complaints from some consumers - that it was noisy, invasive, repeated too many times or hard to make sense of because the text disappeared quickly. Media reports described some people saying they would disable the alerts from their phones.
"Californians need to know that by opting out of the system they could be trading a moment's annoyance for the possibility of real harm to themselves and their families," Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, said in a phone call with reporters today.
He said he would convene a hearing this fall to make sure the system is working properly and explore possible modifications that could address some of the consumer complaints. And he said he wants the Assembly to pay for a public outreach campaign to promote the benefits of the system.
The Wireless Emergency Alert System is used to send the public messages about all kinds of disasters, officials said, including instructions to evacuate in case of fire, flood or toxic spill. Amber Alerts are only sent in the most dire cases of child abduction, they said. Users should not hear the buzzing noise when their phones are set on silent, said AT&T executive Peter White.
Nine Amber Alerts have been issued in various parts of California this year, but last week's was the first to go out statewide, said California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief LD Maples. Sending them by cell phone "increases opportunities to locate an abducted child," he said.
Robert Hoever, director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said Amber Alerts have helped authorities safely rescue 656 kidnapped children across the country. But the alerts only work, he said, if people see them.
"Amber Alerts have the power to save lives, and we need the public's participation in that program to keep it going," Hoever said.
PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Perez in the Assembly chambers on Monday, March 11, 2013. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua