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PROTECT Act - Things To Remember While Reading Excerpts From The Protect Act Of 2003:, What Happened Next . . ., Meghan's Law - Excerpt from the PROTECT Act of (2003)

amber alert communications children

Excerpt from the PROTECT Act of 2003

Reprinted from the U.S. Government Printing Office Access Web site at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html


"No family should ever have to endure the nightmare of losing a child. Our nation grieves with every family that has suffered unbearable loss. And our nation will fight threats against our children. . . . And now it is my honor to sign the PROTECT Act of 2003." President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) made this statement in the White House Rose Garden immediately before signing into law the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003. The short title of the law, Public Law 108-21, is the PROTECT Act of 2003. The PROTECT Act is the most far reaching child protection legislation signed in decades.

"No child should ever have to experience the terror of abduction, or worse. . . . This law marks important progress in the protection of America's children."

President George W. Bush

Looking on was Donna Hagerman Norris and Elizabeth Smart and her parents. Norris is the mother of Amber Hagerman (1986–1996) who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 1996. Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in the middle of the night, but in a rare happy ending, had been found alive and returned to her family. Donna Norris and Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, both had urged passage of PROTECT. They were particularly instrumental in President George W. Bush signs the Protect Act of 2003 on April 30, 2003. Also known as the AMBER Alert legislation, the law provides for a national AMBER Alert system for finding abducted children. (© Reuters/Corbis)
pressuring Congress for the passage of provisions found in Title 3 of the act known as the AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response) Alert.

The AMBER Alert is the legacy of Amber Hagerman who was nine-years-old when she was abducted and murdered. Amber was riding her bicycle outside her home in Arlington, Texas, a city located between Dallas and Ft. Worth, when in daylight and in full view of witnesses she was abducted. Her body was found four days later at the bottom of a creek bed, her throat slit. Amber's murderer has never been found.

After Amber's death her mother, Donna, began working with local police and the media to create a quick alert system to inform the general public when a child has been abducted. A voluntary association between law enforcement and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Association of Radio Managers resulted in the Robbie Callaway, Chairman of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, displays an AMBER Alert Kit. AMBER Alerts became increasingly important tools in rescuing kidnapped children since thousands of citizens could quickly join law enforcement in the search. (AP/Wide World Photos)
nation's first AMBER Alert program in 1997. AMBER stood for America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response. Information about a child's abduction is quickly broadcast to the surrounding communities so the public is on the lookout for the missing child.

The idea and establishment of AMBER Alert programs spread across the country at the end of the 1990s and into the early 2000s. Some states organized statewide AMBER Alert programs while cities and entire metropolitan areas also set up AMBER systems.

AMBER Alerts became increasingly important tools in rescuing kidnapped children. As much information as possible is quickly gathered and broadcast over radio and television stations by way of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to the areas where and near where the abduction took place. The EAS is an updated version of the Emergency Broadcast System originally designed to broadcast national nuclear attack alerts should it become necessary.

In general, an AMBER alert gives a missing child's name and description, description of the abductor, and description and license plate of the suspected car. By getting information out quickly thousands of citizens can join law enforcement in the search. AMBER Alerts have already brought a large percentage of abducted children home safely.

As the number of AMBER programs increased, the need for coordination became apparent. Within the PROTECT Act, the AMBER Alert sections provide a means for national coordination of the "patchwork" of established programs. Under the act an official from the U.S. Department of Justice is assigned as national AMBER Alert coordinator. Although each state and locality is free to set their own guidelines, the national coordinator established a set of minimum standards to apply when deciding to issue an AMBER Alert.

These alert standards, which guide most programs, are as follows: (1) a law enforcement agency confirms an abduction has taken place of a child seventeen years of age or younger; (2) the law enforcement agency believes the child abducted is in danger of bodily harm or death; and, (3) there is enough descriptive information about the child and abductor or the abductor's vehicle that if made available to the public, the public could help in the child's recovery.

An AMBER Alert can only be activated by law enforcement for the most serious abduction cases where the child is in immediate danger. In 2004 AMBER Alerts were issued over radio, television (often on a "crawl" information strip at the bottom of the picture), the Internet, and, if available, on electronic traffic information signs along roadways.



TITLE III—Public Outreach

SEC. 301. NATIONAL COORDINATION OF AMBER ALERT COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK.

(a) Coordination Within Department of Justice.—The Attorney General shall assign an officer of the Department of Justice to act as the national coordinator of the AMBER Alert communications network regarding abducted children. The officer so designated shall be known as the AMBER Alert Coordinator of the Department of Justice.

(b) Duties.—In acting as the national coordinator of the AMBER Alert communications network, the Coordinator shall—

(1) seek to eliminate gaps in the network, including gaps in areas of interstate travel;

(2) work with States to encourage the development of additional elements (known as local AMBER plans) in the network;

(3) work with States to ensure appropriate regional coordination of various elements of the network; and

(4) act as the nationwide point of contact for—

(a) the development of the network; and

(b) regional coordination of alerts on abducted children through the network.

(c) Consultation With Federal Bureau of Investigation.—In carrying out duties under subsection (b), the Coordinator shall notify and consult with the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning each child abduction for which an alert is issued through the AMBER Alert communications network.

(d) Cooperation.—The Coordinator shall cooperate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission in carrying out activities under this section.

(e) Report.—Not later than March 1, 2005, the Coordinator shall submit to Congress a report on the activities of the Coordinator and the effectiveness and status of the AMBER plans of each State that has implemented such a plan. The Coordinator shall prepare the report in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation.

SEC. 302. MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR ISSUANCE AND DISSEMINATION OF ALERTS THROUGH AMBER ALERT COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK.

(a) Establishment of Minimum Standards.—Subject to subsection (b), the AMBER Alert Coordinator of the Department of Justice shall establish minimum standards for—

(1) the issuance of alerts through the AMBER Alert communications network; and

(2) the extent of the dissemination of alerts issued through the network.

(b) Limitations.—(1) The minimum standards established under subsection (a) shall be adoptable on a voluntary basis only.

(2) The minimum standards shall, to the maximum extent practicable (as determined by the Coordinator in consultation with State and local law enforcement agencies), provide that appropriate information relating to the special needs of an abducted child (including health care needs) are disseminated to the appropriate law enforcement, public health, and other public officials.

(3) The minimum standards shall, to the maximum extent practicable (as determined by the Coordinator in consultation with State and local law enforcement agencies), provide that the dissemination of an alert through the AMBER Alert communications network be limited to the geographic areas most likely to facilitate the recovery of the abducted child concerned.

(4) In carrying out activities under subsection (a), the Coordinator may not interfere with the current system of voluntary coordination between local broadcasters and State and local law enforcement agencies for purposes of the AMBER Alert communications network.

(c) Cooperation.—(1) The Coordinator shall cooperate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission in carrying out activities under this section.

(2) The Coordinator shall also cooperate with local broadcasters and State and local law enforcement agencies in establishing minimum standards under this section.

SEC. 303. GRANT PROGRAM FOR NOTIFICATION AND COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS ALONG HIGHWAYS FOR RECOVERY OF ABDUCTED CHILDREN.

(a) Program Required.—The Secretary of Transportation shall carry out a program to provide grants to States for the development or enhancement of notification or communications systems along highways for alerts and other information for the recovery of abducted children.

(b) Development Grants.—

(1) In general.—The Secretary may make a grant to a State under this subsection for the development of a State program for the use of changeable message signs or other motorist information systems to notify motorists about abductions of children. The State program shall provide for the planning, coordination, and design of systems, protocols, and message sets that support the coordination and communication necessary to notify motorists about abductions of children. . . .

(c) Implementation Grants.—

(1) In general.—The Secretary may make a grant to a State under this subsection for the implementation of a program for the use of changeable message signs or other motorist information systems to notify motorists about abductions of children. A State shall be eligible for a grant under this subsection if the Secretary determines that the State has developed a State program in accordance with subsection (b). . . .

(d) Federal Share.—The Federal share of the cost of any activities funded by a grant under this section may not exceed 80 percent. . . .

(g) Definition.—In this section, the term "State"' means any of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico.

(h) Authorization of Appropriations.—There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary to carry out this section $20,000,000 for fiscal year 2004. Such amounts shall remain available until expended.

(i) Study of State Programs.—

(1) Study.—The Secretary shall conduct a study to examine State barriers to the adoption and implementation of State programs for the use of communications systems along highways for alerts and other information for the recovery of abducted children. . . .

SEC. 304. GRANT PROGRAM FOR SUPPORT OF AMBER ALERT COMMUNICATIONS PLANS.

(a) Program Required.—The Attorney General shall carry out a program to provide grants to States for the development or enhancement of programs and activities for the support of AMBER Alert communications plans.

(b) Activities.—Activities funded by grants under the program under subsection (a) may include—

(1) the development and implementation of education and training programs, and associated materials, relating to AMBER Alert communications plans;

(2) the development and implementation of law enforcement programs, and associated equipment, relating to AMBER Alert communications plans;

(3) the development and implementation of new technologies to improve AMBER Alert communications; and

(4) such other activities as the Attorney General considers appropriate for supporting the AMBER Alert communications program.

(c) Federal Share.—The Federal share of the cost of any activities funded by a grant under the program under subsection (a) may not exceed 50 percent. . . .

(f) Authorization of Appropriations.—(1) There is authorized to be appropriated for the Department of Justice $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2004 to carry out this section and, in addition, $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2004 to carry out subsection (b)(3).

For More Information


Books

Ramsey, Sarah H., and Douglas E. Adams. Children and the Law in a Nutshell. 2nd ed. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2003.


Web Sites

"AMBER Alert National Strategy." U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/amberalert/AMBERale.pdf (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Beyond Missing, Inc. http://www.beyondmissing.com (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"FCC Consumer Advisory: The Amber Plan." Federal Communications Commission. http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/AMBERPlan.html (accessed on August 19, 2004).

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. http://www.missingkids.com (accessed on August 19, 2004).

PROTECT Act of 2003. U.S. Government Printing Office Access. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-in/getdoc.cgi?dbname=108_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ021.108 (accessed on August 19, 2004).

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