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Lancaster AMBER Alert reaches millions via cell phones

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Many people in Central Pennsylvania woke up to AMBER Alerts on their cell phones Thursday night, after two siblings in Lancaster were allegedly abducted by their father at gunpoint.

The alerts are the result of a partnership between the wireless industry, the FCC and FEMA to help bring missing children home safely.

People are automatically signed up to receive AMBER Alert texts if they have a phone that enables wireless emergency alerts, so the children and their father didn’t get very far before they were spotted.

Around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Maggie Sweeney’s phone made a noise that she didn’t recognize.

“It kind of sounds like when you have warnings on your TV for inclement weather,” she said. “It was like that on my phone.”

The sound was followed by a text message. A Pennsylvania AMBER Alert with the license plate number and description of a car Lancaster police believed was carrying the two abducted children.

It was the first time many people received an AMBER Alert that way, and Andrew Horn thought it might be a virus.

“I hadn’t heard of blanket AMBER Alerts to just cell phones,” he said.

As of  January 1, 2013, AMBER Alerts are automatically sent to cell phone users with Wireless Emergency Alert-enabled phones.

Lancaster Police Chief Keith Sadler said it made all the difference in this case.

“Literally, the eastern part of the country was blanketed with these alerts, so I don’t know where they would have gotten to, but obviously this was resolved in less than 12 hours,” Sadler said.

You can opt out of the AMBER Alerts by calling your wireless carrier. On some phones, you can go into your emergency alerts settings and change it yourself.

But people FOX43 News spoke to said they don’t mind the alerts because they can help save lives.

“If someone has gone missing, especially a child, time is a factor,” Horn said. “A little lost sleep, I can roll over and go to bed, if I’m not out and about. But if I’m out and about, I can keep my eyes open.”

“I was thinking about it, and I was worried about the kids and wondering if they made it back okay, so it was a good process,” Sweeney said.

You may also get Wireless Emergency Alerts on your cell phone about extreme weather, local emergencies requiring people to evacuate and Presidential Alerts during a national emergency.


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