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First California AMBER Alert Shows AT&T's Emergency Alerts Are a Mess 380

Posted by Soulskill
from the learn-to-hyperlink dept.
Mark Gibbs writes "AT&T's implementation of the FCC's Emergency Alerts System provides minimally useful information in an untimely fashion with little geolocational relevance. ... Yesterday California got its first AMBER alert and my notification arrived at 10:54pm. It came up as panel over my lock screen and here's what it looked like on my notifications screen: 'Boulevard, CA AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/6WCU986 (CA) Blue Nissan Versa 4 door.' The problem with this it that's all there is! You can stab away at the message as much as you like but that's all you get, there's no link to any detail and considering the event it related to occurred over 240 miles away from me near to the Mexican border, the WEA service seems to be poorly implemented. Indeed, many Californians were annoyed and confused by the alert and according to the LA Times 'Some cellphones received only a text message, others buzzed and beeped. Some people got more than one alert.' I got a second copy of the alert at 2:22am and other subscribers reported not receiving any alert until late this morning." It seems to have gone down about as well as New York's.
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First California AMBER Alert Shows AT&T's Emergency Alerts Are a Mess

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  • by 0WaitState (231806) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:17AM (#44494515)
    Earth to submitter: AT&T is a mess.
    • By a godly coincidence, I read this article on CNN right after bumping into this one. For those wanting more information on the mysterious amber alert, here it is: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/07/justice/california-amber-alert/index.html?hpt=hp_t1 [cnn.com]
  • by m1ss1ontomars2k4 (1302833) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:24AM (#44494529)

    People on Verizon and T-Mobile got the same message. But sure, just blame AT&T for it anyway.

  • by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:25AM (#44494533)

    All services implemented the same feature and sent the EXACT same nearly useless message (which was written by a CA agency and approved by FEMA before being sent out).

    Makes no sense to single out "AT&T's implementation"... it's mostly the cell phone manufacturer's implementation, and the govt's decision to send it out to the entire state in the middle of the night...

  • Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:28AM (#44494541)

    I live in Illinois and didn't watch the news tonight so I wasn't aware of the Amber alert in California. However, from the message you posted, here is what I got:

      AMBER ALERT
      Location: Boulevard, California
      California License Plate: 6WCU986
      Car Make: Nissan
      Car Model: Versa
      Car Color: Blue
      Other Attributes: 4 door, not 2 door.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:42AM (#44494605)

      Now go look up "Boulevard, CA" on a map and explain why 20+ million people in CA who have never heard of it or live within 300 miles of it should be woken up in the middle of the night about it.

      • Just how long do you think it takes to drive 300 miles in a CAR which can travel at over 60MPH? Why would someone who kidnapped a child stay in the same area anyway? 300 miles is peanuts for that kind of alert, it should really be more like the possible distance travelled in a generous window since the disappearance was reported, not just five hours...

        The whole point of the thing is to alert people in a huge radius to be on the lookout for the car. The alert had just the information needed - if you saw

        • by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:10AM (#44494725)

          Did you get the message on your phone? I did. It was just a plain bad experience for most people. Scared the crap out of me, it vibrated and made a crazy loud noise I'd never heard before even though my phone was in my pocket and supposedly on mute. The first thing I did was disable all future amber alerts (which was the only option in the iPhone's settings), as apparently did millions of other people who were woken up or otherwise freaked out by the way it was delivered. One of the main things they needed to avoid with this "opt out" system was the "car alarm syndrome", and they completely failed that.

        • Rewind and first of all explain to me why some random child being kidnapped justifies an alert on a national emergency system.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by hawguy (1600213)

            Rewind and first of all explain to me why some random child being kidnapped justifies an alert on a national emergency system.

            It wasn't a national alert, it was a regional alert in California. An alert that the system was specifically designed for, that's why your phone will let your block Amber alerts separately from the other alerts if you want to.

            If you don't want child abduction alerts, then turn off amber alerts in your phone.

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        Now go look up "Boulevard, CA" on a map and explain why 20+ million people in CA who have never heard of it or live within 300 miles of it should be woken up in the middle of the night about it.

        Because one possible destination was Canada, so the suspect would have been driving through all of California? At least he would have until he saw the alert on his phone.

        It wasn't the middle of the night, I got my message at 10:51 - a time when many people were still awake.

        • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:25AM (#44494817)

          It wasn't the middle of the night, I got my message at 10:51 - a time when many people were still awake.

          And they resent it at 2:30am just in case it didn't piss off EVERYONE at 10:51.

          I'm not arguing the whole concept is bad, just the implementation. What the hell is wrong with a text message? Ok, if it's delayed by a few minutes big deal, the 99.9% of the people who are not on the road until the next morning will get it anyway (and technically it's actually *illegal* in CA - and possibly dangerous - for the 0.1% who are on the road - to check it while driving!) And in fact, they will possibly be MORE likely to get it since the first thing I did on my phone going bats hit crazy was unlock it, which cancelled the message window... I never even got to see what it actually said until I read a news article the next day. If it was just a text message I would have seen it on my phone when I woke up, read it and probably digested the contents a lot better (and not immediately opted out of it like many also did).

          • by hawguy (1600213)

            It wasn't the middle of the night, I got my message at 10:51 - a time when many people were still awake.

            And they resent it at 2:30am just in case it didn't piss off EVERYONE at 10:51.

            That's apparently your carrier's problem since my Verizon and T-Mobile phones only received one message.

            I'm not arguing the whole concept is bad, just the implementation. What the hell is wrong with a text message?

            Because the carrier networks are not designed to send a geographically targeted SMS message, not to send millions of simultaneous SMS messages.

            Ok, if it's delayed by a few minutes big deal, the 99.9% of the people who are not on the road until the next morning will get it anyway (and technically it's actually *illegal* in CA - and possibly dangerous - for the 0.1% who are on the road - to check it while driving!) And in fact, they will possibly be MORE likely to get it since the first thing I did on my phone going bats hit crazy was unlock it, which cancelled the message window... I never even got to see what it actually said until I read a news article the next day. If it was just a text message I would have seen it on my phone when I woke up, read it and probably digested the contents a lot better (and not immediately opted out of it like many also did).

            My phone stores emergency alert messages, I assume that all (most?) do. So if you really cared about the contents of the message you could have read it the next day.

            • by Dahamma (304068)

              Because the carrier networks are not designed to send a geographically targeted SMS message, not to send millions of simultaneous SMS messages.

              That's absurd. Did you read that somewhere or just make it up? Either way, just stop and THINK about how they already send millions of simultaneous SMS messages! AT&T sent 630 BILLON text messages in 2011 to ~90M total customers in the US. That's almost 2 billion a day. I think they can handle another few million to their CA customers for an AMBER alert.

              • by N1AK (864906)
                It could only be seen as absurd if you completely failed to understand what he is saying. There's no point sending an SMS to a phone belonging to a guy in california if he's on holiday in France; however a guy from New York who is in California may want to know that there was a disaster warning for California. SMS are sent to phones based on their number. This system sends messages to phones in the vicinity. The difference is pretty fucking obvious ;)
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Dahamma (304068)

                  Seriously, do you not understand that the *carrier* can do whatever they want here? They know where all of their customer's cells are all the time, they could implement this with SMS messages just as easily as the system they did end up implementing. Or a system that DIDN'T USE SMS but had the same effect (ever heard of iMessage?) I don't know, seems pretty fucking obvious to me.

                  But in the end, as I already said, I'm not against the idea, just the implementation. Who the hell cares which protocol is us

                  • by hawguy (1600213)

                    Seriously, do you not understand that the *carrier* can do whatever they want here? They know where all of their customer's cells are all the time, they could implement this with SMS messages just as easily as the system they did end up implementing.

                    The carriers cannot deliver real-time geographically targeted messages with SMS. I've been told that by more than one carrier engineer when asked if our venue's dedicated cell tower could be used to send SMS messages to customers in the event of an emergency. He said many people ask for it, but it's not remotely possible and that if we had public safety messages to send, we'd have to work with FEMA and local public safety agencies to send an WEA alert. The towers can't autonomously send SMS messages to all

                    • by Dahamma (304068)

                      Isn't that what they did? Implemented a system that doesn't use SMS, but has the same effect

                      No, not the same effect - the same effect would be for it to look like a text message, which is the goal of iMessage.

                      having it flash on your screen only to be discovered in the morning may make the data too stale to use.

                      That's my *point* - how on earth were all of the people lying in bed at midnight supposed to use it in a timely manner? They'd be better off seeing it in the morning before they left for their daily commute, etc. And probably awake and interested in it instead of tired, pissed off, and turning it off. And those people actually on the road would get a text message (or equivalent) on their

  • by OffTheWallSoccer (1699154) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:29AM (#44494543)

    I received the message via Sprint, despite being 400 miles from the affected area. I guess this is one way to make sure people start ignoring these messages.

  • by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:40AM (#44494585)
    I got the same alert four times in the last 24 hours, several hours apart. And I was just in a night class with 100 other people, and four separate times during the class somebody's phone (including mine, once) started blaring the alert at max volume. My phone was on vibrate. One person couldn't figure out how to silence their phone, and ended up running out of the room with phone still blaring. After 3 seconds, if you don't silence it, the phone starts reading the alert text at maximum volume too (using TTS). I have an HTC One, which has incredibly loud speakers, so this is not cool. Of course, Amber Alerts are now disabled on my phone, which reminds me of the stupidity of Windows User Account Control popups -- people click on them just to get them to go away, so they lose their value. Incidentally, Presidential Alerts may not be disabled on Android. I just hope the US President never has a good reason to ring every phone in the nation at full volume.
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:41AM (#44494593)

    Don't blame (only) AT&T for the terse message. The WEA system limits messages to 90 characters:

    http://www.fema.gov/wireless-emergency-alerts [fema.gov]

    WEA will look like a text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no more than 90 characters.

    I can't believe the government asked for such an arbitrary and small limit on message size, so I'm assuming that the carriers said that's all they could provide, probably because a 90 character message fit into some control message they were already sending to phones.

  • I live in San Francisco, which is 600 miles from San Diego where this alert originated from. For you east coasters that is the equivalent of an Amber Alert in Florida being sent to everybody all the way to Washington DC.

    I quickly researched how to turn off Amber Alerts on my phone, I won't be bothered by them ever again. (On an iphone Settings > Notifications, scroll to very bottom where you find Government Alerts, turn off Amber Alerts, leave on Emergency Alerts since that might actually carry importa

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:52AM (#44494639)

    The radius needs to be quite wide, because a person can travel a great distance in a car in a short period of time. 800 miles would not be unreasonable depending on when the missing child was reported.

    Abducted children are often taken quite far away.

    The fact it was an Amber alert tells you a child is involved, and the alert had all other information needed to report something, basically the plates and make/model of the car.

    I guess the different times of reception are an issue but something is better than nothing, and it takes time to work through a list of many cell phone numbers to send out an alert... obviously they do need to improve on the speed of that, and try to remove duplicates.

    • by N1AK (864906)
      Then you have a problem because the message was state wide not distance based. If you really think sending a text message to over a third of the country if someone goes missing in Pittsburgh (everyone in states within 800 miles) is going to do anything but lead to pissing people off and millions turning the alerts off then go for it.
    • by EvanED (569694) <evaned@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @04:05AM (#44495173)

      The radius needs to be quite wide, because a person can travel a great distance in a car in a short period of time. 800 miles would not be unreasonable depending on when the missing child was reported.

      By that reasoning, at the time the AMBER alert was issued, it would have been justifiable to announce it to about 1/2 of the continental US.

      Reasoning:
      - The kidnapping occurred no later than ~8pm Sunday
      - The earliest AMBER alerts (according to the summary) started around ~11pm Monday; let's be kind and say that they started around 8pm
      - That gives 24 hours for the kidnapper to get somewhere
      - If the kidnapper drove at 60 mph for that time (that is... moderately realistic if he planned for it), he'd be able to clear 1,440 miles
      - The entire west coast up to Seattle would be in fairly easy range; Austin would be in range; Houston is barely out of range according to 1440 miles (though Google Maps estimates it at under 21 hours, and puts New Orleans at 25 hrs); Omaha is a bit out of range by 1440 miles (but in range per Google Maps's estimate of 22:40); Sheridan, WY and the Montana border are in range

      And that's just counting what he'd be able to do by the time the alert was issued. Want them to plan ahead for where he might be in another 12 hours? Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, etc. are all in fairly easy range; Tampa, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh are maybe possible.

    • Exactly how many children are abducted a year (really abducted, not taken by a parent who lost custody)? How many amber alerts a year?

      If they're in the same order of magnitude, I'd be okay with this. Somehow I doubt it.

      I started getting similar (unstoppably) alerts for a weather advisory in the area. Not a hurricane or tornado. Just "severe rain". Do these people realize that these sorts of alerts really don't do much except remind people to let in their cats and dogs and close the windows?

  • by greywire (78262) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:54AM (#44494653) Homepage
    First, I was watching cable tv when the show was interrupted by the EBS (with a computer synthesized voice, no less, yet it still sounded like a bad CB radio). My cable box inexplicably returned to some random channel that I wasnt watching. Thanks Time Warner and Motorola, your cable box SUCKS in yet another aspect. Then, hours later (at like 10pm or so), all three t-mobile cell phones got the alert. We got the alert yet again the next day. For something that occurred at around 5PM? The suspect could have been out of state or in mexico by then. At the time I was thinking, what makes this kid so special, this sort of thing probably happens daily.. I didn't know the details on the story until the next day. This might be useful if it arrived within, say, an hour or less of the incident and was sent to phones geographically within the area the suspect could have traveled in that amount of time (80 miles?).
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @07:21AM (#44495929) Homepage Journal

      The Amber alert is so-named because that's who it's for finding, little white girls who could be named Amber.

      Where in holy hell do you go to get a list of Amber alerts anyway? You sure can't go to Amberalert.gov [amberalert.gov], they don't have any useful information there. You can get press releases there, but not amber alerts. Your tax dollars at rest! Oh wait, on the site index, I found a link to missingkids.com [missingkids.com]. Wait, that's just another informational page on amber alerts! If this program's goal were to find missing kids then the whole front page of amberalert.gov would be [the] current amber alert[s]. It isn't. It's to give the appearance of giving a shit. (Holy shit, the front page of missingkids.com has no missing kids on it, either.)

      Amber alerts are bullshit from bullshit people.

  • ... by the ineptitude, apathy, and selfishness of a corporate contractor? News at 10:54pm!

  • by tji (74570) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:14AM (#44494763)

    My phone made an awful, loud, startling noise. I had never heard it before, and it scared the crap out of me. It sounded like a fire alarm. Once I realized it was my phone, my first thought was some sort of disaster requiring evacuation. Once I saw the message, it was only confusing. No real information, no linkage to details.

    A google search turned up more about the Amber alert, which I discovered was several hours away from me in Southern California. I'm in Northern California. The details on the web mentioned that they were suspected of escaping to Texas. So, it was absolutely irrelevant to me. I immediately looked into how to disable it, and had it disabled in a couple minutes. 75% of the others I talked to today also disabled there Amber alerts.

    1. The alarm should be more moderate, or at least adjustable. It was very startling. If I had been driving when it went off, I think the effect would have been dangerous. I would have left it on if I could disable the audio alarm and just get the message.

    2. It needs more information, or at least a simlpe click-through to details, location radius / distance from me, pictures of the people involved, etc.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:17AM (#44494777)

    They used the national emergency service to inform the population about some child being kidnapped. Erh... Ok, now please tell me why I should care. Yes, yes, it's probably heart breaking for the parents, and yes, yes, if it was my child I'd certainly love to use it for that but the problem is: 99.something % of the population do not give half a fuck, let alone keep an eye out for that car. "Why the fuck should I care about some random brat I don't know about?" will probably be the reaction of nearly ALL the people who got that message.

    I see a "cry wolf" scenario waiting to happen. Some day in the future, something actually important, something that actually is meaningful to most of the population, will happen and people will simply click it away after reading "AMBER AL...", thinking "fuck, that kidnapping fad's getting worse than spam texts".

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      They used the national emergency service to inform the population about some child being kidnapped. Erh... Ok, now please tell me why I should care. Yes, yes, it's probably heart breaking for the parents, and yes, yes, if it was my child I'd certainly love to use it for that but the problem is: 99.something % of the population do not give half a fuck, let alone keep an eye out for that car. "Why the fuck should I care about some random brat I don't know about?" will probably be the reaction of nearly ALL the people who got that message.

      I see a "cry wolf" scenario waiting to happen. Some day in the future, something actually important, something that actually is meaningful to most of the population, will happen and people will simply click it away after reading "AMBER AL...", thinking "fuck, that kidnapping fad's getting worse than spam texts".

      If you don't care about Amber alerts, you can disable them in your phone while still receiving the other emergency alerts.

      If you get a message that starts "AMBER AL...", then you can safely ignore it if you don't care about child abductions since Amber alerts are specifically for child abductions.

      • Oh. Very convenient. Though it shoudl be opt-in.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Oh. Very convenient. Though it shoudl be opt-in.

          The whole point of opt-out systems is that they're used when few people would choose to opt-in.

          This one fails dismally because they've made it so incredibly annoying that almost everyone goes to the trouble of figuring out how to disable them.

          • by hawguy (1600213)

            Oh. Very convenient. Though it shoudl be opt-in.

            The whole point of opt-out systems is that they're used when few people would choose to opt-in.

            This one fails dismally because they've made it so incredibly annoying that almost everyone goes to the trouble of figuring out how to disable them.

            You've just explained why it wasn't set up as an opt-in system -- few people would chose to opt-in. Since nearly everyone that's complaining about the message didn't realize that there was even an option to disable the alerts, non of those people would have opted in, so having them opt-out now is no worse. But most of the rest of the people that don't really care about the alerts (or don't know they can turn them off), will keep them enabled.

    • They used the national emergency service to inform the population about some child being kidnapped. Erh... Ok, now please tell me why I should care. Yes, yes, it's probably heart breaking for the parents, and yes, yes, if it was my child I'd certainly love to use it for that but the problem is: 99.something % of the population do not give half a fuck, let alone keep an eye out for that car. "Why the fuck should I care about some random brat I don't know about?" will probably be the reaction of nearly ALL th

  • by Sarusa (104047) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:19AM (#44494793)

    On iOS: settings -> notifications -> Government Alerts down at the bottom. You can turn off just Amber alerts.

    On Android: open the Android messaging /application/, then menu -> settings -> emergency alerts -> disable Amber alerts.

    • On iOS: settings -> notifications -> Government Alerts down at the bottom. You can turn off just Amber alerts.

      Thank you - I haven't had to deal with these phone alerts yet so I hadn't noticed this setting; but now I've disabled them preemptively.

      I don't know about other areas of the US, but around here (Puget Sound region, Washington state) we've got all sorts of computer-controlled signage on our major freeways. For the past couple years these have included Amber Alert notices when those occur. There's no real benefit to having them also appear on my phone - if I'm not in my car, I'm not likely to notice random au

      • by Entropius (188861)

        In the Baltimore/DC area they also have "Silver Alerts": dementia patient got out, can someone catch him for us? Thankfully they're just on the freeway signs (which normally tell other helpful information like "don't drive drunk" and "YAY SAFETY WOOO". Meanwhile people drive like derps on the Beltway anyway.

  • AT&T - for all that it's the same name as the precursor of the inventor of the telephone system and many innovative systems, is sadly not even a pale ghost of it's former glory. What they are is group of clue avoiding MBAs cum lawyers running a reconstituted monopoly to maximize shareholder profits and piss off customers. They are worse than that barking dog that just won't SHUT UP, they are a drag on innovation, competition, and customer service. While they do a great job of "servicing" their customers

  • Of *course* it is annoying at the same time it is busy being useless. It has nothing to do with the nature of the emergency and everything to do with keeping the citizens hyper-vigilant...er, scared. Now excuse me I've got to get ready for the Two Minute Hate.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @04:39AM (#44495341)
    I live in the eastern US and also am an AT&T customer. A few months ago I got blasted awake by an Amber alert in the middle of the night. It was the loudest sound I ever have heard coming from my iPhone. I honestly did not know it was possible for the phone to produce a sound that loud. I was less than thrilled at having received no warning about this being implemented. The next morning I read up on how to disable the alerts. If you haven't received an Amber alert on your phone, disable them now because you definitely do not want your first experience to be your phone screaming like a banshee in the middle of the night.
    • by Entropius (188861)

      Isn't an Amber alert specifically something you don't wake people up for? The whole point is to make use of the citizenry as a distributed search system. People who are sleeping are pretty bad at looking out for missing kids.

      You wake people up for things like tsunamis, nuclear war, and radiological attacks. That's about all I can think of.

  • 240 miles away is perfectly reasonable for someone suspected to be on the run. [Insert The Fugitive quotes here.] 240 miles at an average speed of 50mph is under 5 hours. Hell, in 10 hours, they can be in New Mexico at a very leisurely pace.

    As for the content of the alert, it would be nice if there was more info but what more do you need than "Amber Alert" and the vehicle description? The cops don't want you to take them down. They want you to report the location of the vehicle if you see it. That doe

  • by Arrogant-Bastard (141720) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @05:03AM (#44495413)
    This is as beautiful an example of idiotic, worthless, counterproductive security theater as we've seen.

    For starters, the implementation is something I'd expect from a drunk college sophomore who's been pulling C grades in CS courses. It's miserable. The most significant effects it's had have been to alarm, confuse, annoy and distract people -- some of whom were driving. Great idea, that last one: cause their cell phone to make a noise they've heard before so that it increases the probability they'll pick it up and look at it.

    Second, the lack of detail is outrageously stupid. A recipient of this message who just happened to see such a vehicle might approach it because there's nothing in it warning them not to.

    Third, sending it 24 hours later is idiotic. Any competent murdered would be in a different vehicle by then. (Once again, police assume that everyone is as stupid as they are. Most people aren't.)

    Fourth, sending it multiple times ensures that many people will disable it. Way to go, alleged public safety officials.

    Finally, the entire concept behind this is insane. Untrained civilians are poor observers (as anyone who's studied trial witness dynamics for even an hour knows). How many blue cars got reported because they might be Nissan Versas? (I have no idea what one of those looks like; hell, I didn't even know there was such a model.) How much manpower got diverted to deal with all those false reports instead of being used to pursue leads based on hard evidence?

    This is just another case of lazy, sloppy, incompetent police work -- like we saw in Boston when they closed down the entire city and rolled armored vehicles through the streets to catch one frightened teenager and STILL couldn't manage to pull it off. It seems that the pigs in California only know how to drink coffee and shoot helpless unarmed civilians in the back -- something challenging, like tracking down a murderer, is far beyond their pitifully feeble minds.
    • by nschubach (922175)

      We've had a few of these alerts in the Ohio area and people here pretty much ignore them now. They go off in a conference room, everyone knows what it is and they just keep on doing what they were before. Most don't even read them. "Oh, another Amber alert"

      It's not that people "don't care". It's that the alert isn't going to amount to anything to someone sitting on a conference or the office. I certainly don't remember what kind of car the alert mentions on my drive home let alone a license plate numbe

  • I am in VA and on Ting, every time I had a CMAS weather alert my phone would do the annoying emergency alarm several times. One time there was a flash flood watch for my city and the neighboring county, that's 2 alerts, then it kept repeating about every 10 minutes.

    Plus, it is a text message and character limited, so it is hard to put detail in. Links would be nice, but they take space, and lets face it, not all phones can follow links, even with smartphone penetration where it is.

    Ultimately I turned th

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @10:37AM (#44498015) Homepage Journal

    Amber Alert seems like a really good idea, until you look at it closely. The root problem is false positives. Not false reports of sightings of abducted children, those can be weeded through pretty effectively. False Amber Alerts.

    The basic concept behind the system is that since many abducted children are killed in the first three hours, it's necessary to get the alert out there fast. But, it's also really important that there not be a flood of Amber alerts issued about kids who just wandered off to a friend's house or something, so the process of verifying that a particular case meets all of the criteria for issuing an alert pretty much guarantees that by the time the alert is issued it's too late for kids who were victims of the most frightening form of child abduction, the sort for which the alert system was created.

    Research backs this logic up. Multiple studies have been done, and none have demonstrated that Amber alerts do much at all that's useful. They're most effective at finding family abduction cases, but those almost never harm the kids and almost always get resolved anyway, without the alert.

    All of the actual research papers I can find are paywalled, but here's a Boston Globe article [boston.com] that discusses the results of one of the earliest studies. Several more have reaffirmed and even strengthened the findings of the first.

    So, it really doesn't matter much if the alert delivery system is broken. The alert issuance system is fundamentally and likely irreparably flawed.

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