State, local officials explain how an Amber Alert is issued

EAS alerts come from state, not local agencies

With two Amber Alerts issued in Wisconsin in the last two days, many people may be wondering when and how an alert is issued.

La Crosse police have never had to issue an Amber Alert for an abducted child. If an abduction were to take place, however, police must take certain steps to make sure the public gets informed.

“The sooner we can get that out the better,” said Sgt. Randy Rank with the La Crosse Police Department.

In child abductions, information is key.

“People when they hear this alert it really catches your attention,” said Rank.

In order to issue that alert, however, police must first determine facts.

“We have to make sure the child is at least 17 years or younger, that they have been abducted, and that there’s a danger to that child,” said Rank.

From there, police will contact local dispatch, but the information is also passed along to the state.

“All the information that’s going to come out comes from a centralized agency, which is the Dane County Emergency Dispatch Center,” said Rank.

“The Dane County dispatch center will actually release the EAS,” said Jenniffer Price, Child Abduction Response Team commander from the Wisconsin Department of Justice. “The audio tone followed by the message people see on their TVs and the audio message they get on their radio is the EAS that is sent by the Dane County dispatch center.”

Meaning the scroll people see actually comes from the state.

“In a statewide alert like yesterday, you should see all the different regions, and that it’s a child abduction alert, and then you’ll hear the prerecorded message that gives the details on the missing child and any suspects involved and vehicle information,” said Price.

Descriptions for the situation are often brief.

“It’s very defined,” said Rank. “(It’s) who we are looking for, any vehicles that associated or any people. It’s short and to the point of what we’re looking for and who to contact.”

Regardless of how the information is spread, officials know time is crucial.

“Those first few hours are, by far, the most critical,” said Price.

There are nine alert regions the EAS will disseminate information within the state.

The determination as to what regions will be given the alert is based on a case-by-case basis.

As for Amber Alerts that people receive on their phone, Dane County emergency dispatch also disseminates the information to another source called the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network.

From there, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives the alert, and are the ones in control of the messages people see on their phone, not the EAS.

Those messages are confined to only 90 characters or less.