Officials learn about Amber Alert system

By Bethany Knipp

The inner workings of the Amber Alert system were explained at Monday’s intergovernmental luncheon in a discussion prompted by last week’s abduction of 10-year-old Hailey Owens of Springfield, Mo.

Riley County Police Department director Brad Schoen said Amber Alert is a federal system and that any situation regarding missing children must meet a set of criteria for an alert to be implemented.

According to the Kansas Amber Alert website, the system should not be overused because “too many notifications take the urgency out of an alert.”

Law enforcement agencies can submit an alert request if a child is 17 years old or younger or a person has a mental or physical disability.

Law enforcement also must believe the child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death and enough information about a victim or an abductor must be available so that the public has a chance to help authorities.

Schoen said that since 2003, Kansas has had 23 Amber Alerts and RCPD has submitted requests for two, but didn’t qualify for an alert in either case.

“It’s not like we get to make the call on this,” he said.

RCPD Lt. Josh Kyle discussed the process for the department to submit a request for an alert.

He said after a child is reported missing to RCPD, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation is notified.

The federal National Center for Missing and Exploited Children office is “auto-flagged” because of a code entered by police into a system called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Kyle said that while the KBI authorizes the broadcast of the Amber Alert via media and highway message boards, only the NCMEC can authorize the alert through the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, which uses cell towers to send emergency notifications to the public via smartphones.

“It hits every tower within a specified region,” Kyle said. Which regions are picked for an alert are up to the NCMEC.”

He said if people didn’t get an Amber Alert for Owens through their smartphones, it’s because their technology wasn’t new enough to receive them — or their carrier wasn’t enrolled in the program. Customer enrollment in the WEA system is automatic and users can call their carriers to see if they are participating in the program, and which phones can receive the warnings.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

* Plans for a modified sledding course a CiCo Park were unveiled by Manhattan Public Works Director Rob Ott.

Ott said the plans are purely conceptual at this point, and that the three-slope design is meant to make sledding more efficient and fun for the course’s patrons.

* Gary Stith of the Flint Hills Regional Council cleared up some confusion regarding the council’s impending changes. 

Stith has been an associate planner with the FHRC, and said he will switch to deputy director as Bill Clark, the current executive director, moves to a part-time position.

Clark has accepted a position with USD 475 in Geary County, reducing his salary with the FHRC as part of a cost-cutting strategy.

Stith also highlighted the four programs the council presently has targeted: the Frontiers Project for housing and infrastructural plans; the Metropolitan Planning Organization for transportation and mobility; and two new programs, the Economic Development District and Regional Transit Administration.

The administration changes will be official April 1.

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