Opinion

AMBER Alerts are for our most vulnerable, including people with disabilities

Protecting our most vulnerable should be a priority to all.

Whether we were sleeping, in class, or watching a movie, AMBER Alerts have interrupted all of us at some point. Despite being occasionally annoying, AMBER alerts serve a real purpose in our community.

AMBER alerts are province-wide alerts used to quickly spread information about a vulnerable individual who has been abducted. People have different opinions about the effectiveness of these alerts — complaints about the interruption, especially when issued late at night, are common. The public and those who have worked with the system have offered valid critiques about areas needing improvement, as well. The system, as with everything, is not without its flaws. But, it plays an important role in quickly and effectively locating vulnerable individuals in dangerous situations. We all play an important part in this when it comes to AMBER alerts.

On October 19, the Edmonton Police issued an AMBER Alert for a 40-year-old woman who is blind and non-verbal. At first, the age initially surprised me and my friends. Not many people know AMBER Alerts can be issued for adults with a physical or mental disability. AMBER alerts are used to find vulnerable people at risk, which is possible by creating a greater awareness of the abduction. The more people that are aware of the situation, the more likely the individual will be found safely. Hence the loud, abrasive sounds when AMBER alerts are issued.

The common understanding of AMBER alerts is that they are used for children. However, children are not the only group of people that are more vulnerable in the situation of an abduction. Individuals with disabilities are especially vulnerable and are more likely to be victims of crime. The reasons for being targeted are similar to that of children.

It makes sense to include disabled people who may have reduced mobility or awareness in AMBER Alerts, as was the case with the latest alert. People with disabilities may have an inability to defend or advocate for themselves and understand the danger of their situation. The recognizability and the ability to quickly spread awareness to the public is part of what goes into the decision of issuing one. 

The alerts are not about the age of the victim as much as they are about their vulnerability. In actuality, both children and people with disabilities are extra vulnerable to abductions and this alert can help ensure their safety. As citizens we all need to do our part to protect not just children but all vulnerable people. Paying attention to AMBER alerts is one way we can do this.

AMBER Alerts are different from other more frequently issued emergency alerts we receive on our phones or broadcasts. However, these alerts are often confused with AMBER alerts. Since these are more frequent, people associate with AMBER alerts, creating the perception that they happen more frequently than they actually do. More commonly when there is a concern for public safety, the specific area that is of concern will be notified with a Civil Emergency Alert. The province requires that cases that may warrant an AMBER alert meet specific criteria. All emergency alerts are important to pay attention to, but it is especially important to pay attention to AMBER alerts. They indicate that a vulnerable individual’s life is at risk and we can all do our part to find them

The alert on October 19 was the first use of the AMBER Alert in Alberta in 2023. Last year in Alberta, police agencies issued only two AMBER Alerts. Government organizations save the use of an AMBER Alert for individuals who are in the most vulnerable position. Saving this alert for the most serious situations reflects the importance of finding the individual as quickly as possible.

Along with these other concerns, people can feel helpless when they get an alert. One may feel that there isn’t anything a single person can do to locate the abducted individual. However, the purpose of the AMBER Alert is to make more people aware of the abducted, the abductors, and the vehicle they may be driving. The greater awareness the public has of the people or vehicles that match the provided descriptions are the reason many of these alerts resolve. Police are usually able to locate victims unharmed and alive. As citizens and community members, we have an obligation to keep each other safe in whatever way we can. A small effort we can make is to pay attention to the alerts we receive, especially AMBER Alerts. 

In the instance of October 19, an off duty police officer was able to help locate the woman only two hours after the abduction took place. She returned home safely and unharmed. 

AMBER Alerts are important for the safety of our most vulnerable. Increased public awareness can help safely bring individuals home. It is not a perfect system, but it is an important one that we can all play a small part in, even if the alerts can be loud and obnoxious. 

Leah Hennig

Leah is in her first year studying English and media studies. In her spare time, she can be found reading, painting, and missing her dog while drinking too much coffee.

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