Statewide Amber ALERT Confusion

Many people throughout the State of California received an automated AMBER ALERT late on the evening of August 5th, prompted by the California Highway Patrol because Sheriff’s deputies in San Diego county are seeking a 40 year old man suspected of involvement in the death of two people in Boulevard, CA whom they believe is travelling North to Canada or South to Mexico.

James Lee DiMaggio is suspected of murdering Hannah Anderson and another unidentified child at his own home in Boulevard and kidnapping her children, Hannah who is 16 and Ethan who is 8.  The bodies of mother Hannah and the child were discovered in the charred remains of DiMaggio’s home following a fire and Sheriff’s department detectives believe he has the children and is fleeing in a blue Nissan Versa with a CA licence 6 WCU 986.

The automated AMBER ALERT that appeared on many peoples cell phones caused considerable confusion and consternation on some social media sites, but is actually a program that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rolled out at the beginning of 2013 in an effort to keep the public at large informed of developing risks or emergencies.  The system was used very effectively by FEMA in the lead up to Hurricane Sandy on the East coast, but can be activated in any State of the country when the need arises.

The difficult balancing act of providing timely information on developing emergencies, while not inundating users with unwanted information is a challenging one.  Initial tests of the system simply directed people to check their local information sources for details, but this proved ineffective as many recipients chose to ignore the texts.  Limited to just 90 characters, the decision was made to try to provide salient and useful information in the texts instead, which is proving more effective.

Some older cell phone owners will not have received the automated ALERT but most new cell phones are automatically set up to receive them.  The good news is, the text messages do not cost you anything, and they hopefully will not come out too often.  You can disable their receipt, but we’d recommend suffering the occasional interruption they may cause for the importance they may provide during a true emergency or disaster.

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