Lawmakers review AMBER Alert on cellphones

August 12, 2013 7:34:20 PM PDT
A statewide AMBER Alert set smartphones off last week in the middle of the night with many getting the alert not understanding why. It prompted complaints and a review by lawmakers who as ABC7 News found out are worried that some may opt out of the crucial emergency alert system.

California's first statewide AMBER Alert via cellphone startled a lot of people last week. Complaints include the loud shriek, 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. As for AMBER Alerts, they do save lives. Today, 656 lives nationally... now 657," said California Highway Patrol Chief L.D. Maples.

"Some of you may find the AMBER Alert annoying, please pay attention, keep your eyes open, let's bring these children home," said Hannah's father Brett Anderson.

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.

Assm. Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, 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 immediately deactivating, 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 Elizabeth Feao, a cellphone customer.

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 Arlene Fischer, a cellphone customer.

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

After the hearing, the 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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