Google Search, Maps Now Bring up Amber Alerts

Amber Alerts warning of abducted children who are in danger will now come up in local Google Search or Google Maps searches to help spread the word about their abductions.

Google Search and Google Maps inquiries will now also bring up critical local Amber Alerts in the user's community to help authorities spread the word about child abductions as they happen.

"Today we are launching Amber Alerts coordinated by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the Google Public Alerts platform," wrote Phil Coakley, a software engineer on the Google Public Alerts team, in an Oct. 31 post on the Google Official Blog. "Public Alerts are designed to bring you emergency alerts when and where they're relevant to you, and Amber Alerts aim to help bring abducted children home safely."

The newly integrated alerts will appear when users conduct searches with Google Search or Maps on desktop and mobile devices, wrote Coakley. "You’ll see an Amber Alert if you search for related information in a particular location where a child has recently been abducted and an alert was issued. You’ll also see an alert if you conduct a targeted search for the situation. By increasing the availability of these alerts through our services, we hope that more people will assist in the search for children featured in Amber Alerts and that the rates of safe recovery will rise."

The Amber Alerts will provide information about the local abduction incident, including a description and details about the child and the case as they become available. Other details that may be included are the make and model of the vehicle used to abduct the child and information about the alleged abductor, according to Coakley's post.

The Amber Alert Program is a voluntary partnership set up by the U.S. Department of Justice between local and state law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies and others to bring together entire communities in the most serious child-abduction cases. The NCMEC is providing the Amber Alert data to Google, which will make it possible to display information in Google's Public Alerts.
"We’re working closely with Missing Children Europe and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to try and scale this service to more countries," wrote Coakley. "We'll keep exploring different ways to improve child protection through innovative technologies, like what has been used to reduce exploitation and improve reporting to NCMEC."

Amber Alerts have been getting communicated to more community residents nowadays because of a similar program started in May by wireless phone and device carriers across the United States. The new service is being deployed as part of an emergency alert system in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to notify the public about weather conditions, Amber alerts and presidential messages.

FEMA and the wireless carriers are rolling out the emergency alerts, called the Wireless Emergency Alert, or WEA, system, via text-like messages on mobile phones to allow federal, state and local governments to issue critical alerts. The free alerts could come from the president, National Weather Service or local emergency operations, and they may include Amber alerts on missing children. WEA is also referred to as Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), which the FCC initiated in 2006 under the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act. The FCC set April 2012 as the deadline for carriers to begin sending the alerts.

A 28-month period for wireless carriers to set up implementation of the system began Dec. 7, 2009, according to FEMA. Carriers participating include AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless.

Customers can opt out of all messages, except for presidential alerts, which may contain information on national security. Wireless users may receive warnings on weather conditions, such as tornadoes, flash floods or blizzards.

Not all phones are capable of receiving WEAs, according to FEMA. The agency anticipates that most handsets will be WEA-capable by 2014. Phones that support WEA will automatically receive the messages. WEAs will feature a unique ringtone and vibration, according to FEMA. The distinctive vibration could help people with hearing or vision-related disabilities, the agency reported. The alerts will include indicators such as alert category, event type, response, severity and urgency.

Users who are on voice or data sessions won't receive the alerts, but the alerts may be rebroadcast at specific intervals.