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Thursday 13 February 2003

Crying Wolf Update

The Baltimore Sun puts together the story of the ‘Amber Alert’ fiasco on Tuesday:

About 2 p.m., a cryptic Amber message began flashing across more than 60 state highway signs. It read:




Together with the apparent bin Laden threat yesterday and the upgrading of the nation’s terror alert status last week from yellow to orange, the Amber Alert was apparently mistaken by many motorists for a terrorist warning.

“It is understandable people could think that,” said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman.

Well, if it’s so “understandable”, you idiot, maybe you should have used a different message, or a different means to disseminate your message. I can’t help but think that if those signs had said “MISSING CHILD” instead of the totally meta “AMBER ALERT” — which is, remember, not to be confused with the textually and chromatically similar ORANGE ALERT, which is something completely different — a lot of confusion could have been prevented.

The “Amber Alert”, though, is the pet project of the moment of the The Polly KlaasŪ Foundation (I’m not kidding, ‘Polly Klass’ is really a registered trademark), so the phrase will be used. It’s hard to argue against these missing-child organizations, which I suppose is the point. They all have heartrending names like the ‘Morgan Nick Foundation’ and the ‘Paul and Lisa Program’ and the ‘Jimmy Ryce Center’. The problem with having outfits like these determine public policy — the Polly KlassŪ Foundation is currently pushing for a federal Amber Alert — is that nobody questions them (because then you’d be accused of being in favor of child abductions — you don’t hate children, do you?), and they take an absolutist approach. A single missing child — or possibly-missing child — is enough to seriously impede or stop the functioning of a major city.

Local traffic reporters blamed the alerts for the traffic jams.

“They caused backups. They caused confusion. They caused concern,” said Bob Marbourg, a veteran traffic reporter for WTOP radio in Washington. “Ditch the Amber Alert business. Our whole news report today is about bin Laden, so everybody has heightened awareness. Then they look up and see ‘Amber Alert.’ It confused people.”

Marbourg said his regular cell phone callers reported delays where they don’t usually occur. “They would get to the message sign, and that would be the point where the traffic would break loose,” he said.

Posted by tino at 11:17 13.02.03
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You know what has been missing from all the reports on this Amber Alert tha I have read? What is missing is that the point of an AMber Alert is to send out the notice as quickly as possible to hopefully stop the abductor before they get very far. In the Baltimore case by the time the issued the Amber Alert over 6 hours later they abductor could have easily been in New York City, Raleigh NC, or Pittsburgh. I’d really like an explaination from the MD State Police about this? I’d also like to know why the Baltimore Sun never asked this question or mentioned it in its reporting of the story.

Posted by: Paul M Johnson at February 15, 2003 10:32 AM

These “outfits” with “heart-wrenching names” are put together by women who have lost their children to an abduction and have devoted their lives to preventing such tragedy for other children and their families. They drive the same vehicles they drove when their children were abducted, years ago, with hope. They aren’t rich, are profiting, just trying to do something to stop this from happening again.

If the alerts are used improperly it is the ignorance of the ones using them, not of the foundations themselves. Even if they are possibly misused on occation, we are talking about saving a child, possibly your child, and with these alerts in place you stand such a greater chance of recovering your baby then without. I am sorry if cities have been inconvienced over a “cry wolf” alert, but I would rather hear of a few false alerts then no alerts at all. Your article was obviously written by a man without children who has no knowledge or concern for the thousands of missing children that have come home safely due to these alerts.

Posted by: concerned citizen at February 8, 2004 11:34 PM