AMBER Alert Plan

California AMBER Alert Plan


The California AMBER Alert Plan is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement, transportation, and media to rapidly disseminate information about a suspect and victim to law enforcement agencies and the public when a child has been abducted. California's AMBER Alert Plan has been part of the state's comprehensive child recovery strategy since it was launched in August, 2002.  

Key Partners


The California Broadcasters Association, California Department of Transportation, National Weather Service, California Lottery, GTECH, Facebook, Twitter, Nixle, California law enforcement agencies, and the media.

Activation Process


California AMBER Alerts are initiated solely by California law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies must follow strict activation criteria before an alert is activated. The agency's administration must give approval before initiating an AMBER Alert. The primary consideration in the development of the activation criteria was the identification of those abducted children who are at the greatest risk of serious bodily injury or death.

In order for the California AMBER Alert Plan to be activated, law enforcement must be satisfied the following criteria have been met:

  • It has been confirmed that an abduction has occurred, or the child has been taken by anybody including, but not limited to, parents and/or guardians.

  • The victim is 17 years of age or younger, or of proven mental or physical disability.

  • There is reason to believe the victim is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

  • There is information available that, if disseminated to the general public, could assist in the safe recovery of the victim.

The AMBER Alert cannot be used for custodial disputes or runaway cases that don't meet the criteria. Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to issue an Endangered Missing Advisories for cases that don't meet the criteria.  Here are the steps a law enforcement agency must take once it has been determined that the criteria have been met:

  • ​If the agency is within a CARE county (Los Angeles, Orange, Alameda, or San Diego) contact the local Sheriff's Department

  • If the agency is not within a CARE county, contact the California Highway Patrol.

  • The agency should set up a phone "hotline" to handle tips and appoint a public information officer to handle the press.

  • The agency should obtain current photos of the victim and if possible the suspect.

Distribution Process


The California Highway Patrol will distribute AMBER Alerts to law enforcement, broadcasters, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Lottery, Ports of Entry, and members of the public who have registered to receive the alerts. Those alerts will be sent to computers, cell phones and text messaging devices. ​

  • CHP will use the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to initially notify California broadcasters of the alert.

  • CHP will also post the alert on its website

  • CHP will send out flyers to law enforcement agencies and businesses throughout California and surrounding states.

  • California Department of Transportation will distribute the alerts on Changeable Message Signs (CMS), and Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) transmitters.

  • Media outlets will also post alerts on their websites.

  • NCMEC will disseminate the alerts through secondary distributors, i.e. Internet providers, Facebook, trucking associations, airport security, Twitter, Nixle, etc.

  • Numerous private businesses have agreed to put the alerts on their electronic signs.



APBnet is a web-based system that captures and immediately distributes color photographs and images to law enforcement agencies, media outlets, and other organizations. In addition, the system is capable of transmitting information via facsimile to business, hospitals, schools, media outlets, and agencies. The APBnet system can be used to quickly disseminate information regarding a child abduction case throughout the state.

When the CHP receives word of a confirmed child abduction which meets the AMBER Alert criteria, it can post Critical Reach flyers, photographs and other pertinent information on the department's Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)/media Web site ( and public Web site (


​Emergency Digital Information Service (EDIS)

 EDIS delivers official information about emergencies and disasters to law enforcement, news media and the public in California. Electronic emergency bulletins posted to EDIS are available by e-mail and pager from various providers, who voluntarily provide this service. Bulletins are posted on the EDIS Web site ( for access by the media, law enforcement agencies, and the public.


Wireless Emergency Alerts Program (WEA)

The Wireless Emergency Alerts will allow consumers with WEA-capable smartphones and feature phones to automatically receive free AMBER Alert messages, along with Presidential and Imminent Threat Alerts. When a subscriber with a WEA enabled cellular phone is within range of the activated cell tower they will receive the AMBER Alerts, even if the wireless customer is not from the area. The program is an "opt out" program, meaning subscribers do not have to enroll in the program to receive alerts. The WEA AMBER Alert notification is automatically sent from National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at the time of the AMBER Alert activation. The message includes an audible tone followed by a text-like message.


Changeable Message Signs


The Changeable Message Signs will contain the following message when the suspect's vehicle information is known:





Law Enforcement Responsibilities 

  • Each agency should have an established protocol to govern their use of the AMBER Alert Plan within the agency's child recovery plan.

  • All law enforcement personnel should be trained on the AMBER Alert criteria and notification process.

  • Each agency agrees to designate correct personnel who have the authority to issue the AMBER Alert.

  • Each agency agrees to abide by the established criteria and activation procedure and all other components of the plan.

  • Each agency agrees to respond to any questions or concerns raised by the AMBER Alert Advisory Committee.

Media Responsibilities 

  • ​Each media outlet should have an established protocol to govern the receipt and broadcast of an AMBER Alert.

  • Each media outlet should train all employees on the AMBER Alert criteria and the steps to follow to broadcast the alert.

  • ​Each media outlet should post the AMBER Alert on their web sites.

  • Each media outlet should help educate the public about the AMBER Alert through news stories, public service announcements and participating in AMBER Alert tests.



The training for law enforcement and broadcasters must provide instruction on all aspects of the state's plan, including its activation criteria and broadcasting procedures.

  • CHP will provide training to law enforcement agencies and communications centers on criteria and activation procedures.

  • The AMBER Alert Coordinator will keep current on training and other resources to assist all members of the team to make sure the plan is working effectively.

  • The AMBER Alert Coordinator will help write and produce protocols and training materials.

Community Awareness


The AMBER Alert Coordinator will work with the Broadcaster's Association to make sure citizens of California are familiar with the AMBER Alert Plan in order to enhance its success in the safe recovery of abducted children. The public information campaign will let the public know how the AMBER Alert Plan works and how to help in the safe recovery an abducted child. A public information campaign will include public service announcements, public awareness events and written materials.

The California AMBER Alert Advisory Committee will also seek out businesses and private individuals to help in the implementation of the California AMBER Alert Plan. Employers will be encouraged to notify all of their employees of AMBER Alerts. Private businesses with electronic signs, Internet providers, websites and other means to communicate with the public will be encouraged to offer AMBER Alert notifications.


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