Amber Alerts: Should you be annoyed?

Amber Alert

With the new wireless public alert system in Canada, more people than ever can be reached with an AMBER Alert when a child is in danger. If your phone is not compatible with the new wireless public alert system, you can use Alertable to still receive alerts.

However, as recent AMBER Alerts in Ontario and Alberta have shown, this dramatic increase in scope and scale has resulted in a backlash from some of the public when they think the system is being misused. Many have asked; why do AMBER Alerts sound the loud Alert Tone that can’t be turned off?

The AMBER Alert system started out as a voluntary program between police and radio stations. The criteria for an AMBER Alert is very narrow and usually involves a suspect in a vehicle. So it made perfect sense for the police to partner with radio stations, so they could quickly enlist drivers on the road who are listening to their radios, to call in any sightings. Highway road signs were eventually added to further target drivers. Television was added later, and allowed photos to help in the search, but fundamentally the system still relies on public “eyes on the road”. In fact, as the AMBER Alert system has expanded, so has the number of nuisance calls to 911 dispatch centres from members of the public, causing a “needle in the haystack” result for actual tips and information.

Introducing wireless alerts has had an exponential effect on the reach of those alerts and the ability to save a missing child’s life. But with this increase in scope, people can also be reached at inopportune times or who may not be able to (immediately) assist, for example if they are sleeping or far from the event. Then there are concerns with the loud tone distracting the public when they are driving potentially causing an accident.

We’d like to hear your feedback on whether AMBER Alerts sent to a mass audience should sound the loud Alert Tone on people’s phones.

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