Reporting from Washington — The Amber Alert program, which broadcasts emergency bulletins about child abductions, got a big new friend Wednesday when Facebook announced that its more than 500 million users would be able to sign up to receive the messages.
Facebook has created 53 new Amber Alert pages — for every state, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Users who "like" their local Amber Alert page will receive bulletins about child abductions in their news feed and can share them with their friends, Facebook said.
"Our hearts go out to the families of the missing and our gratitude goes to the officers, volunteers and other Amber Alert partners who work tirelessly to bring them home," said Chris Sonderby, Facebook's lead security and investigations counsel. "We are hopeful that today's announcement offers these dedicated officials another useful tool to find and safely recover abducted children."
Facebook made the announcement along with the U.S. Justice Department, which runs the Amber Alert program, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
"Average people doing average things but paying attention are saving lives and reuniting families," said Ernie Allen, the center's president. "With more than 500 million Facebook users, this bold initiative will help us mobilize many more people and bring more missing children home."
The move greatly expands the reach of the Amber Alert program, which went national in 2003. The alerts are broadcast by television and radio stations and posted on highway information signs and can be sent to cellphones and other wireless devices.
The program began in the Dallas/Forth Worth area in 1997, a year after the abduction of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was later found slain. The program is credited with the safe recovery of 525 children nationwide.