Montana DOJ Using New AMBER Alert Notification System

Montana DOJ Using New AMBER Alert Notification System

The Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today it has begun using CodeRED, a hosted emergency notification system, to issue the state’s AMBER Alerts and Missing Endangered Person Advisories (MEPAs). At a press conference this morning in Helena, DOJ officials thanked the Town Pump Foundation for its donation, which made the switch to the new alert system possible.

“Thanks to the generous support of the Town Pump Foundation, for a period of three years, we’ll be using CodeRED to support our AMBER Alert and MEPA Programs,” said Attorney General Tim Fox. “CodeRED provides multiple methods of rapid communication to the public whenever a child has been abducted, which is critically important in situations when every second counts,” added Attorney General Fox.

CodeRED is certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS) and will allow DOJ to issue Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). Previously, WEAs, which generate cell phone tones/texts to the public, were issued for the Montana DOJ by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Arlington, VA.

“We appreciate the assistance NCMEC has provided, and NCMEC is still our back-up plan, but we hope having the ability to issue a WEA will expedite the alert,” said Jennifer Viets, AMBER Alert Coordinator for the Montana DOJ. Viets added, “Regulations tightly restrict the use of WEA, but there is no doubt they are an effective way to reach the public. Traditionally, WEAs were issued only when a good description of the abductor’s vehicle was available. The second time we used the WEA to send an AMBER Alert was last year; a Montana citizen was reading the alert on his cell phone, looked up and saw the suspect vehicle parked right in front of him. Officers responded and found the vehicle was still warm. Tire tracks leaving the area helped identify the second suspect vehicle. The alert was updated and several hours later – 200 miles away – a citizen tip came in that led to the recovery of the children and arrest of the kidnapping suspects.”

Maureen Kenneally, spokesperson for Town Pump said, “Town Pump is pleased to partner with the Montana Department of Justice once again as we join forces to help keep our young people safe. We care about the communities we do business in, particularly the children in those areas. Time is of the essence when a child goes missing, and all of us at Town Pump are gratified to know our support of the Code RED system will help law enforcement in their efforts to secure the safe and timely return of abducted children.” Town Pump was the first business organization to partner with the Montana Department of Justice in its efforts to stop human trafficking.

Up until July 1, the Montana DOJ had been using a free web portal to issue AMBER Alerts; however, agency staff noted some technical difficulties. Agency officials noted other advantages to using the CodeRED system, including:
• The same system uses one standard method to issue both AMBER Alerts and MEPAs;
• Its use of Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri) mapping to target alerts to people in a specific area;
• Alerts can be sent across a variety of different platforms, including automated phone calls, text messaging, TDD transmissions, emails, and RSS feeds.

Additionally, DOJ officials encouraged the public to download the free CodeRED app. While citizens will still receive AMBER Alerts on their phones without having the app, downloading it will enable them to receive more detailed AMBER Alerts, such as those that include photos, as well as cancellation notices when AMBER Alerts have ended. The app also enables users to receive MEPAs on their phones. To download the app, visit DOJ’s website at www.dojmt.gov

The AMBER Alert program is a child abduction recovery plan that began in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in 1996 after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered. In response to community concern, radio stations in the area joined with law enforcement agencies to establish a program capable of quickly distributing information about child abductors to the general public. In memory of Amber Hagerman, the program was named the AMBER Plan — America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.

In July 2002, a special session of Montana’s Legislature directed the DOJ to implement a similar program here. Through a voluntary partnership between the Montana Broadcasters Association, the MT DOJ, the Montana Department of Transportation, the Montana Lottery, the Montana National Weather Service, and local law enforcement, Montana’s statewide AMBER Alert program was developed.

Since 2003, the Montana DOJ has issued 30 AMBER Alerts. All 46 children involved were located; tragically, four of them were deceased.

A statewide test using the new Code Red system is tentatively set for October 10 at 10:00 am. Details regarding the test will be released in early October.

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