State

Officials review cellphone AMBER Alert options

Monday, August 12, 2013

The successful rescue of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson in Idaho and the death of her abductor has focused new attention on the cellphone emergency alert system. Some cellphone users were frustrated by the messages. Now lawmakers want to make sure you don't turn those alerts off.

California's first statewide Amber Alert via cellphone startled a lot of people last week. Complaints included the loud shriek of the alert, being woken up, and receiving the message multiple times.

It was for the abduction of San Diego County teen Hannah Anderson, and authorities credit the emergency system with playing a key role in her safe recovery in Idaho this weekend.

"The cell user can help save someone else's life, a child's," said California Highway Patrol Chief L.D. Maples. "As for Amber Alerts, they do save lives. Today, 656 lives nationally, actually now 657."

"Some of you might find that Amber Alert annoying," said Brett Anderson, Hannah's father, at a Monday news conference. "Please pay attention. Keep you eyes open. Let's bring those children home."

But the annoying sound motivated some people to opt out of the Amber Alerts from their smartphones.

An online poll by a San Diego newspaper conducted the day after the alert found one-third of respondents would disable the feature.

That makes state leaders anxious because the Wireless Emergency Alert is not just for missing children. It's also for imminent danger like a wildfire close to their homes.

Assembly Speaker John Perez promises a hearing this fall to make the system better and encouraged people to keep the alert on.

"This being our first experience in California, instead of people going and immediately de-activating, we want to learn from people's frustrations," said Perez.

Some cellphone users do not want their alerts on.

"Because I believe it's crazy how the government has access to our phones, and it can just send out information like that to everyone," said cellphone customer Elizabeth Feao.

The majority, though, said they don't mind receiving the messages if a life is at stake.

"How do I know to call the police and go and say, 'Hey, I've seen them?" said cellphone customer Arlene Fischer.

"It takes one person to notice something. If I can be that one person, I'm doing my job," said cellphone customer Barbara Balthazar.

After the hearing, Speaker Perez plans to send suggestions to FEMA and the FCC. He thinks there might be a way to disable the sound while you're sleeping.

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amber alert, state, nannette miranda
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