Department officials announce grant for Amber Alert System

Cabinet Secretary of Safety and Security Commissioner Kevin Ward announced that the Southwestern Bell Communications Foundation awarded a grant to the state in the amount of $77,000. Oklahoma will be the first in the nation to develop and implement the Amber Alert notification system using satellite technology.

"We are thrilled for this opportunity to afford the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters a way to improve the Amber Alert system," said Ward.

With the grant, a faster more expedient process will be in place to provide pertinent information to radio and television broadcasters through a satellite activation system. Images of the abducted child, vehicle description and the abduction suspect, coupled with specific situation information will be provided much quicker.

"We have had success in the past when utilizing the Amber Alert System, but this stepped up communication will really help in providing the information at an increased pace with added information capabilities," said Ward.

Application for the grant was made through the governor's office and awarded by the Southwestern Bell Communications on November 12

"We are so thankful to Southwestern Bell for this grant. Itís companies like this that allow us to do our job in a more efficient manner," said Ward.

In addition to SBC, Ward points to the cooperative efforts of the media.

"We literally break into regular television programming in broadcasting these alerts," said Ward. "That means whether in the middle of a prime time show or expensive advertising commercials, the Oklahoma media are willing to accommodate this vital request, potentially risking the loss of advertising time and dollars."

Although most of Oklahoma's law enforcement agencies have signed up to participate in the Amber Alert System, Ward encourage 100 percent statewide participation.

"We have asked law enforcement agencies to sign up before utilizing this system because we want them to participate in a short training session to familiarize them with the process," said Ward. "This by no means will forfeit the participation of those agencies who have not yet signed but have a missing child incident. We would never jeopardize an individual's safety, however it is important that we minimize any inadvertent abuse that could weaken the alert's effectiveness."

The agencies that have already signed up for use of the system, have sent representatives to the training. "They are taught how to discern the difference in criteria for an actual alert versus a runaway or a child returning home late from visitation of a relative or friend," said Ward. "We take these alerts very seriously."

Because three major interstate highways intersect in the heart of Oklahoma, thousands of motorists are alerted, in addition to the media broadcasts, through large digital signs in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas provided by the Department of Transportation.

"People who are out driving around or commuting to and from their jobs are our biggest asset when they see the Amber Alert messages on these massive sign boards," said Ward. "Not that the messages posted via the media aren't as crucial. In fact, one of our successful alerts was due to a television viewer who happened to leave his home soon after reading the alert. He spotted the suspect's vehicle and called in pertinent information regarding the situation."

Ward encourages all law enforcement agencies statewide to contact the Department of Public Safety to sign up for the Amber Alert program. Call 405-425-2750 and ask to speak to the CLEET division for Amber Alert training.