Amber Alert System

  • Alert What is the Amber Alert System? 

    The AMBER Alert was established in remembrance of Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old from Arlington, Texas. In response to concern following her tragedy, the Association of Radio Managers with the assistance of law enforcement in Arlington, Texas, created the “AMBER Plan”. Named for Amber Hagerman, it uses the Emergency Alert System (EAS), formally the Emergency Broadcast System, for child abduction cases.

    Under the plan, radio and television stations immediately interrupt programming to broadcast civic information about a child abduction by using the EAS, a system typically used for weather or other emergencies. Since the AMBER Plan was established in Texas, many areas across the country have adapted a similar emergency alert plan on the local, regional, or statewide level. The plan is simple -- to alert the public as quickly as possible to a child abduction in hopes of gaining information which will lead to the safe recovery of that child and capture of the abductor. Between 1996 and 2002, the alert system has been credited with the safe return of at least 21 children.

    The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has endorsed the use of the AMBER Plan, as used in Texas, to assist in the most serious child abduction cases and is promoting the use of such emergency alert plans nationwide. The NCMEC has carefully assessed all current plans in use around the country and has developed a guidebook called, “AMBER Plan, America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response”. To review the guidebook, please log on to and click on the AMBER icon.

    Sadly, more than 2,000 children are reported missing every day across America. Tragically, many of these children are never returned to their caretakers, and many are victims of assault and murder. A 1997 study by the Washington State Attorney indicated that 74% of children abducted and murdered by strangers were killed within three hours of being taken.

    Realizing that time is of the essence in these cases, the chiefs of law enforcement agencies in Virginia and the Washington Metropolitan areas agree that the abduction of a child is of the highest priority for response and investigation. In furtherance of this type of investigation, a carefully planned and quick notification to the public by commercial broadcast methods, the AMBER Plan, can be a valuable tool in the recovery of abducted children. The purpose of the AMBER Plan is for law enforcement agencies to collaborate with local broadcasters in serious child abduction investigations for the safe and swift return of missing children.



    The AMBER Plan is activated when a child abduction is reported and investigation reveals that:

    1. The abducted child must be 17 years of age or younger, and the law enforcement agency believes the child has been abducted (unwillingly taken from their environment without permission from the child’s parent or legal guardian).
    2. The law enforcement agency believes the abducted child is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.
    3. The abductor and/or child are likely to still be in the Washington Metropolitan/ Virginia broadcast area.
    4. A law enforcement investigation has taken place that verified the abduction or eliminated alternative explanations.
    5. Sufficient information is available to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the child, suspect, and/or the suspect’s vehicle.
    6. The child must be entered into the Virginia/Washington Metropolitan Criminal Information Network and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) missing person files as soon as possible.

    The authorized police agency investigating the case may activate the DC/Virginia AMBER Plan in notifying media organizations for broadcast to the public via the Emergency Alert System (EAS) or as soon as practical. All alerts will be reviewed by each geographical jurisdictional committee to ensure compliance with the above activation criteria. ,  to retrieve a text of the alert.

    The broadcast should include an attention getting tone unique to child abductions, and the alert should begin with the phrase:

    After an abduction is confirmed, and it meets all points for activation, the investigating agency sends the information to the designated and authorized agencies who activate the Emergency Alert System. The EAS stations will record and transmit a message to all area media outlets via the EAS to notify all stations to go to the following web site:

    “This is a Child Abduction Alert -- please stand by for important information”.

    The alert will likely include that:

    • A child has reportedly been abducted;
    • Where the abduction took place;
    • A description of the child;
    • A description of the abductor;
    • A description of the vehicle involved, if any;
    • The last known direction of travel; and,
    • A telephone number to contact the police with any information.


    The alert may be broadcast up to 3 times per hour after the initial alert for the first two hours. The alert should conclude with a statement that the person(s) who may locate the abductor should take no action other than to call the local police, as soon as possible, and provide them with the location. Updated alerts may be broadcast if new information may result in the location of the abductor and/or the child, or they have been found.

    Child Indentification Kits

    For information on the Virginia and/or Washington Metropolitan Area AMBER Alert System, please contact:


    Stafford County Sheriff's Office

    Phone: (540) 658-4450


    Stafford County Public Schools' Department of Safety, Security & Risk Management 

    Phone: (540) 658-6000



    Sources: Virginia AMBER Alert Plan and DC AMBER Alert Plan