By Kim Minugh
The California Highway Patrol is urging residents to sign up for a service that sends Amber Alerts to cell phones via text message - one more way residents can help authorities find missing children fast.
The service, which is free regardless of your wireless plan, sends alerts tailored to your area based on the zip code that you provide. You can provide up to five zip codes, and authorities recommend you at least add the zip codes in which you live and work.
To sign up, visit www.wirelessamberalerts.org. Alerts can also be sent in Spanish.
Want another way to get news about abducted children? Yeah, there's an app for that. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has created an application for iPhones that offers a real-time feed of active Amber Alerts, with information about the suspect and the incident.
The application also allows user to view a list of missing children compiled by the NCMEC and organized by states. If a user has information about a case, they can use the application to directly call NCMEC's hotline or send a report that includes the user's current GPS coordinates and their phone number, in case more details are needed.
According to NCMEC officials, applications for other smart phones are currently in the works. In the meantime, a similar application is available for Droid users, though it has no connection to NCMEC.
Still another way to stay informed and potentially help find missing children - Facebook. "Like" the "California Amber Alert" page to get alerts that way, too.
An Amber Alert is an activation of the Emergency Alert System by a law enforcement agency searching for an abducted child. Four criteria must be met before an Amber Alert is issued: there must be confirmation that the child was abducted, as opposed to being missing; the victim must be 17 years old or younger, or have a proven mental or physical disability; there must be reason to believe the victim is in imminent danger of injury or death; and there must be information that, if given to the public, could help lead to the child's discovery, such as a vehicle or suspect description.
Since the Amber Alert program began in California in 2002, 184 alerts have been issued about 223 abducted children. Of those, 218 children have been recovered, and 106 suspects have been arrested, according to the CHP.