A mobile Amber Alert app developed by two Quebec police forces will send instant notifications to users as soon as a child is reported missing.
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Pina Arcamone of the Missing Children's Network said the Alerte Amber Québec app could save lives.
“Every missing child case [that is solved is] thanks to the public’s help, so the public being vigilant and on the lookout is crucial,” Arcamone said.
The Amber Alert protocol was introduced to Quebec in 2003. The system was developed in the United States after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman went missing in 1996.
In Quebec, only two police forces are authorized to issue an Amber Alert: Montreal police and provincial police (Sûreté du Québec). The app was developed in partnership with these police forces, as well as the RCMP.
It works by sending out push notifications to people in the surrounding area of where the child was abducted. Police said it will transmit Amber Alerts to app users for a minimum of five hours unless the case is resolved prior to that.
Messages will be sent out intermittently if the Amber Alert is issued after 9 p.m., until 9 a.m. the next morning.
U.S. system sends to all cellphones
Arcamone said that while it’s a great step forward, she would like to see something similar to what is being done in the United States.
Under this system, which is not available in Canada, any time an Amber Alert is issued in a given state, the emergency broadcasting network uses cellphone towers to send the alert directly to the phones of anyone within the geographical region at that time.
“People must sign on [by downloading the app]. Ideally we would like to see what has been implemented in the United States — that automatically, the minute a child goes missing, you will be notified on your phone whether you have signed on or not,” Arcamone said.
The app is currently only in French, but police said an English version is in the works.
Social media and cellphones are powerful tools in helping locate missing children.
Facebook, for instance, was crucial in finding Victoria, a baby taken in May from a Trois-Rivières, Que., hospital a day after she was born.
Quebec Amber Alerts are issued when:
- Police have reason to believe a child under age 18 has been the victim of a kidnapping.
- The circumstances surrounding the kidnapping lead police to believe the child could be injured or that their life may be in danger.
- The police have enough descriptive information on one or more of the following elements: the child, the suspect or the vehicle used.
People with tips should call 911, 310-4141 or 4141 on cellphones.