FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Tuesday afternoon at 12:21 cell phones across the state erupted with warning tones and an Amber Alert message. A little girl had been abducted in Greenwood, Indiana. That same loud phone alert did not happen when the Indiana State Police issued an Amber Alert for the two children abducted from their Allen County home on Monday.
“It would have been used yesterday except the full information on the license plate came back too late,” Capt. David Bursten, the chief public information officer for the Indiana State Police, said.
Bursten explained that while a partial license plate number is enough to issue the Amber Alert, it’s not enough to send out a push notification.
“Today we already had the full plate number when we issued the alert so the text went out at the same time,” Bursten said.
He told 15 Finds Out that Monday they were preparing to send out a push alert when they did get a confirmed complete license plate for the suspect vehicle, but Allen County police called them saying the children had been found. The Amber Alert was issued at 12:24 p.m., but Bursten wasn’t sure what time they were preparing to send a push alert.
Tuesday’s mass cell phone alert was the first time the ISP has used that technology. For the last 30 days, the agency has been revisiting whether or not to send them. There were concerns that the extremely loud and sudden alert noises would startle people driving and possible cause a crash.
At 3:11 p.m. Tuesday, Police sent a notice to the media that current Amber Alert was canceled as of 12:45 p.m. – 21 minutes after the push notification was sent out.
Processing an Amber Alert is not fast either. It took nearly five hours from when Allen County police started the Amber Alert process to when the state police issued the official alert on Monday.
“You have to verify everything you get into the alert. That slows down the process greatly. The sate police will not approve on hunches and thinking. It has to be verified,” Ronald Rayl, the interim director of the Consolidated Communications Partnership of Fort Wayne and Allen County (CCP), said. Before this role, Rayl spent 36 years on the Allen County Sheriff’s Department.
Rayl gave 15 Finds Out a timeline of issuing Monday’s Amber Alert:
6:20 a.m. – Call to 911 of a break-in and reported children were missing
7:40 a.m. – Officers at the scene requested to start the process for an Amber Alert
9:13 a.m. – Allen County notified National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and A Child is Missing databases for approval of verified requirements for Amber Alert
10:10 a.m. – Requested Amber Alert with IDACS (Indiana Data and Communication System) and NCIC (National Crime Information Center)
10:19 a.m. – Noticed there was a misspelling in the children’s names
10:28 a.m. – Names were corrected and everything was submitted to the Indiana State Police for approval
11:30 a.m. – Allen County Sheriff’s Department sends Amber Alert press release email to the media
12:07 p.m.- State police called Allen County authorities to say they were authorizing the Amber Alert
12:24 p.m. – Amber Alert was activated
12:37 p.m. – Media receive Amber Alert notice from state police
“It’s cumbersome and slow on some of the verification of things. It’s good from the standpoint that we caught our mistake. We left an ‘S’ our of one of the children’s last name and put an extra ‘L’ typo in the girl’s name,” Rayl said. “It cost eight minutes. I will take care of that problem before I go home tonight. Even though it’s only eight minutes, it’s eight minutes that didn’t need to be there.”
In the two hours from when police decided an Amber Alert should be issued to when information could be submitted to databases for approval, officers at the scene had to gather all the necessary information about the suspects and missing children including photos, dates of births, heights, weights and vehicle details.
“The guy on the street has to get it to us then we have to verify and check it and make sure there’s no holes in it and then we can start making entries in notifications. Sometimes that information is readily available and fast and sometimes it takes a little bit of thought because the people we’re getting the information from are also traumatized,” Rayl said. “There are a lot of things out of our control time wise, but we’re doing our best.”
When all the information was in the hands of the state police at 10:28 a.m., Sgt. Rich Myers with the ISP said they have to again verify all the details.
“Make sure that it’s correct and meets protocol and what’s required for an Amber Alert. Then we have to populate our website and get the phone lines transferred to the reporting agency to have a call system set up. There are a lot of wheels and a lot of motion that has to get into place,” Myers said.
Myers didn’t know a “typical” time frame for how long it takes Amber Alerts to be issued and said there is no national standard, adding each case can vary greatly by how readily information is available to police. Myers and Rayl also would not speculate on if a faster Amber Alert would have changed the outcome.
Rayl did suggest that people compile the necessary information about their children so they are prepared if the unthinkable happens.
“Have a piece of paper with your children’s heights and weights and hair color and a recent picture available. Have everything available because they’ll be in trauma and if they have that readily available we can speed up the process tremendously,” Rayl said.