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Missouri ponders Web Amber Alerts

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:43 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Missouri and Kansas are close to joining an Amber Alert system that uses the Internet to spread the news about missing children more quickly.

Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman for Missouri Public Safety director Mark James, said James will recommend the system to Gov. Matt Blunt as soon as next week.

Kansas is ready to launch a similar Amber Alert system within a couple of weeks, said Kyle Smith, a spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

The system sends Amber Alerts by cell phones, pagers, e-mails, public message boards and even to lottery sites and casinos. So far, four other states are using the system.

“This is a priority issue for the Department of Public Safety,” Durdaller said.

Amber Alerts are issued when children are missing and believed to have been taken by strangers. The alert includes a description or picture of the child and information about the suspected perpetrator or vehicle.

The Web-based Amber Alert systems are designed to reach people who may not hear the alerts over television, radio or highway message boards. Individuals and businesses can sign up on a Web portal to be notified directly of alerts.

“Timing is critical for us,” said Capt. Chris Ricks of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “The more people who know what you are looking for, the better off we are.”

The system, which was designed by a consortium of private companies and state officials, could eventually be used to issue terrorism alerts, weather bulletins or other urgent messages.

Smith said police feel more comfortable having the system as part of the state’s site, ksamber.org, so they have control over content and funding. Like the multistate system, subscribers would be notified directly of alerts.

“The potential is great,” Smith said. “You never know when any one person may end up seeing (the kidnapper).”

Last July, Washington became the first state to use a system. Arizona, Idaho and Montana use it, and Missouri is among six states where approval is pending.

Several major corporations, such as Intel and Symantec, donated $4 million in time and technology to develop the system. With the corporations’ continuing assistance, it is offered at no cost to participating states.

The system is operated from a Web site called amberalert.com. Missourians can sign up to receive notice of Amber Alerts at that Web site once the governor agrees to participate. They will not be placed on any other e-mail or call lists, site officials said. Companies also may sign up to get notices.

In some states, notices also are sent to places with high public traffic that have message boards, such as bus stations and casinos. They also are posted at lottery ticket outlets in some places.

“It allows you to communicate over every type of mechanism,” said Chris Dixon, a staff coordinator for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, which helps states interested in the system.

Because sign-up is done by ZIP code, the new system can send notices to the area where the suspected kidnapping occurred and then can be expanded if the abductor remains at large.

“The best thing for us is to get the public involved,” Ricks said. “I think they want to be involved and to help us.”


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