AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The acronym was derived in honor of Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and killed in 1996. The third-grader was dragged, screaming, off her bicycle as she rode near her grandparents' home in Arlington, Texas. Her body was found four days later in a creek. As a result of her death, Dallas broadcasters developed a local alert program, the first of its kind and modeled after storm warning alerts.
The North Carolina Child Alert Notification (NC CAN) System was formally established in the summer of 2002 with NCGA General Statute § 143B-499.7. The purpose of NC CAN was to establish a statewide system to quickly disseminate information regarding abducted children. An amendment was signed by Governor Michael Easley on June 12, 2003, renaming the NC CAN system the AMBER Alert system.
The system is a voluntary cooperative effort among North Carolina radio and television broadcasters, local and state law enforcement, the Department of Transportation and the N.C. Center for Missing Persons. The goal is to use local radio and TV stations, electronic highway signs and lottery terminals to immediately notify citizens of a criminally abducted child in their area.
Time is critical in the event of a stranger abduction. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice released in 2002 showed that in 1999, 40 percent of 115 child abductions considered high-profile cases were murdered, usually within 24 hours. Another study done by the Washington State Attorney General's Office indicates that in three-quarters of the stranger abduction cases studied where the child was murdered, the murders occurred within the first three hours of their abduction.
An AMBER Alert was first used in North Carolina in August 2003 when an infant was kidnapped during a vehicle theft in Charlotte. The abandoned vehicle was located, and the child returned unharmed.
In November 2002, America Online internet service began transmitting AMBER Alerts about abducted children onto the screens of computers, pagers and cell phones of more than 26 million subscribers in dozens of states and cities. The following spring, BellSouth began distributing information to their 14,000 field technicians in the Southeast Region. Technicians receive the child alert notifications and are instructed to contact the appropriate law enforcement authorities with any information.
In addition, AMBER Alert information is broadcast via electronic highway message signs, used throughout the state to apprise motorists of road, traffic, weather or traveler information. And in May 2007, AMBER Alert notifications began appearing on North Carolina Education Lottery terminals.
The majority of reports to the N.C. Center for Missing Persons are for children who have run away. About 95% of the more than 7,000 children who are reported missing each year are recovered.
N.C. AMBER Alert System Plan (2013)