Texans Saving Lives, Reuniting Families

In: Texas Times Column   Posted 02/03/2016

Texans are pioneers at heart, constantly on the front lines of invention and innovation.  Some Texas creations help satisfy our appetite, like the Frito chip, while others like the networked ATM and shopping mall help make life a bit simpler.

But Texas ingenuity isn’t limited to good taste or convenience – in the case of the Amber Alert, a Texan’s idea has saved lives and reunited families.  794 so far, to be specific.

The Amber Alert system - which has helped rescue children from abductors across the country - all began with an idea from Fort Worth native Diana Simone, who had never even met 9 year-old Amber Hagerman before her tragic abduction 20 years ago sparked the idea. 

When Diana first heard about Amber’s abduction and murder in 1996, what troubled her most about Amber’s story was knowing that so many people must have seen the man and the car that held her captive without realizing it.  Through tears, Diana wondered why communities weren’t alerted to nearby abductions to help local authorities with additional eyes and ears on the ground.  Because of the limited availability of cellphone technology at the time, radio seemed to make the most sense to Diana as a medium.

She called her favorite radio station in Dallas-Fort Worth, KDMX, to pitch the idea, and immediately followed up with a letter.  She suggested that when a child was abducted, “an emergency system be set up so that when a verified 911 call is placed, all the radio stations in the area would be notified immediately and they would interrupt programming to broadcast an emergency alert, giving whatever information and descriptions that are pertinent.”

In memory of the girl she never knew, Diana added in her letter: “If you are able to gather support for this Emergency Broadcast Plan, my one request is that it be known as Amber's Plan.”

And with that, the Amber Alert was born in Fort Worth, Texas.

Today, as we mark two decades since the creation of the Amber Alert system, we have a lot to celebrate.  By empowering ordinary citizens to help law enforcement officials, Diana’s idea has reunited nearly 800 families.  FBI data shows that Diana’s idea has contributed to a record low number of missing person reports involving minors, with such reports falling forty percent since 1997 after Amber Hagerman’s abduction.

Now, 20 years later, the Amber Alert has evolved to reach communities through not only cellular phones, but digital road signs and billboards, social media, traffic apps, and pop-ups on local internet searches.  For those of you unfamiliar with the sound of these distinctive alerts, I’m sure Diana would join me in urging you to switch this setting on your mobile device on.  You just might find yourself helping to reunite the 795th child with their family.