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Just got an Amber Alert on my Phone
30 points by ereckers on Aug 6, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments
Me: San Francisco, Sprint, HTC Evo

Amber Alert Boulevard, CA AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/6WCU986 (CA) Blue Nissan Versa 4 door

The phone was a pretty jarring ring w/ a red symbol/icon.

Granted I'm in much better shape then the victim, but I'd be interested in seeing how these Amber Alerts turn out.

I wonder how many highway accidents and fatalities are likely to have been caused by that loud shrieking sound and everyone in the state of California looking down at their phones at the exact same time.

Serious question: What are you supposed to do? Find the vehicle they describe? Run away from it? Ignore it and figure someone else will know what to do?

Can someone explain what this "Amber Alert" is because I have no idea and all the comments in this thread so far seem to assume everyone knows what is being discussed. Is it some sort of opt-out government alert system to help keep panic levels up between terrorist attacks?

It is an alert system mostly used for child abduction emergenencies: "An AMBER Alert or a Child Abduction Emergency (SAME code: CAE) is a child abduction alert system. Originating in the United States in 1996, there are now similar systems in a number of other countries." (source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMBER_Alert)

If you spot the car, call the police. That's all.

The strange thing is that the Amber Alert was for Boulevard, CA which is over 500 miles away.

They were abducted down there 3 days ago. It reached SF today presumably because they've been traveling possibly to Canada.

It went statewide, that's why you got it.

"Amber alert" itself is mostly just a PSA that a child has goe missing. What people are discussing is that most smartphones have a way to have emergency messages (such as this) broadcasted and displayed prominently. In this case, all its asking you to do is Keep an eye out for the vehicle. Report if found.

I have a nexus 4, and I can disable none, some or all of alerts. They're useful though. Among amber alerts, it can warn you about terrorist attacks, earthquakes/tsunamis/other natural disaster, etc.

> it can warn you about [...]

You make it sound like an automated solution! ;-)

A kid was likely abducted after their mother was murdered - the number of comments in this thread complaining about this inconvenience makes me lose a little hope in humanity

I also got it, it's a California state wide amber alert. iPhone 5 iOS 7 [1]. Two children were abducted after the murder of their mother in San Diego [2].

It looks like amber alerts were pushed out in an AT&T carrier settings update back in June [3].

[1] http://shutter.io/img/43sosz/raw

[2] http://www.google.org/publicalerts/alert?aid=9a5a45a2046760c...

[3] http://blogs.att.net/consumerblog/story/a7790136

Same here. Got it on my Nexus 4 (T-Mobile) in SF.

I hadn't noticed this feature before either, so the first thing I did when it prompted me was to disable it, then when I thought about it for a few seconds, I realized it was actually a pretty smart/useful feature so I enabled it again. I hadn't even realized this was an android thing, but if it increases the likelihood of helping people out, I have no problem with it.

Me too. I'm keeping it on.

iOS people are reporting it too. Looking through twitter it's pretty far reaching.

It's a really bad UI for a disruptive message that gets pushed to millions of people.

How many people know what amber alert is? Of those people, how many know what to do about it? Of those people, how many know what Nissan Versa looks like?

How much harder would it be to change the text to something like "Child abduction alert: if you see <car color/model/license plate> call 911" (and, perhaps, include a silhouette of the car model they are looking for)

Well, to be fair, if you google "amber alert" it tells you more info about that specific amber alert.

I can remember AMBER alerts having been widely broadcast on the news for at least 8 years. I imagine many people know what they are.

For those interested, this is what the push notification looks like. http://cl.ly/image/2T19133Y1P22

It didn't link to anything, seems like it could be improved. This is the first one I've ever seen.

Seems like it would be reasonable if they're going to blast a message to everyone to give people some sort of action to take. Like, "if you see the car, call 911" or "if you see the car, don't approach it" or whatever is appropriate.

Agreed, more info would be useful. The alert named some place in San Diego, which I thought was pretty darned far for me to receive the alert. Then I went to the webpage and saw it had gone to a statewide level, and that's why I'd gotten the screech.

I'm not really interested in giving law enforcement special control over my phone.

They don't have special control over your phone. It's a more efficient method than sending an SMS to every phone number.

Who else can use the channel, besides law enforcement?

Too late.

I feel that if it had links spammers would somehow take advantage of this somehow.

It's an Amber Alert. Do you reckon spammers are working for the police now?

What? That escalated quickly! I'm not saying that. I'm obviously not aware of the technical details of how the system works but I'm saying if there were links, I could see this becoming a target for spammers to exploit to use for personal gain.

What you can't imagine, "Amber Alert, this stock is about to go through the roof <some penny stock>"

No, I can't. The Emergency Broadcast System isn't often misused that way either.

You might be an ostrich. Amber Alert Hack: http://media1.break.com/dnet/media/2013/7/31/52b9fd86-29f0-4...

Not currently. Every system has exploitable flaws though.

I got one of these last week in Texas. They are fairly jarring. It is nice that the amber alert website lists all active and closed alerts so you can see what all the hub-bug was about. Also, doing a google search for "amber alert" or "amber alert <state>" will give you a card at the top of the results giving you the details about the alert (the google card only shows up for active amber alerts).

I was sufficiently confused by the message in this alert that I googled "Amber California". If I could review city planning decisions I'd tell them that Boulevard is a reserved keyword and they should select another name for that town. Glad you posted this to clear up that the alert itself is amber and Boulevard is a city.

Also I hope they find the kids.

To change your settings in Android: Settings: Wireless&Networks More: Cell Broadcasts

You have extreme threats, severe threats, and Ambers that you can turn on or off.

I got a severe storm warning driving through Vermont a couple weeks ago, which was handy, and just got this Amber. I'm a little mixed on whether to keep the Amber alert or not.

Keep it on. You may save a child.

This was my first Amber Alert on my smartphone and frankly I found quite annoying. My iPhone squeeled loudly and vibrated waking my sleeping girlfriend. I understand two kids may be in trouble but this seems like a very inefficient use of a very large number of people's time. We were lying in bed reading and sleeping nowhere near any cars. The signs on the highway seem completely reasonable.

Did they really send it to every modern smartphone in California? Are we expected to be on call for the police/government at 11pm?

I eventually figured out how to turn it off on an iPhone[1]. The first few results on Google were non-responsive - apparently being DDOSed by the Amber Alert!

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6165049

The slight inconvenience it caused you (after all, you were just lying in bed reading) is worth it if it allows for many more people to be on the lookout for the vehicle (there aren't digital signs everywhere on the highway either). I honestly can't think of a better way of informing people of urgent events (natural disasters, mainly).

> I honestly can't think of a better way of informing people of urgent events (natural disasters, mainly)

I know that recently, at least in my area (Flint, MI), they started pushing tornado warnings (tornado touchdown confirmed) to smartphones in a way similar to the Amber Alert OP discusses. It was actually pretty cool the night in June, when we had 5 tornadoes touch down in the area, since I don't have TV and was too busy to notice the weather outside to check the weather online.

FYI: The setting to turn these off are in Notifications -> Government Alerts. The piercing siren seems a little excessive for Amber alerts...and doesn't even go quiet in silent mode. It's the default option on iPhone 5 AFAIK.

I can't wait til a movie theater erupts with the sound during a suspenseful moment in the film. You can't be embarrased about your phone making that noise if everyone else's did too, right?

Perhaps that's why they ask you to turn them off before the show and not just silence them

That sounds really disruptive. I'm on WIND Mobile in Ontario, Canada with a Galaxy Nexus, and get AMBER Alerts through a standard SMS message. Combined with a Pebble watch, I don't have to worry about disrupting class/a movie when I get them, and I can read the alert without having to take the phone out of my pocket.

Interesting, 4s here in silent mode and it just had a prolonged vibration.

Same here, it was a loud screeching noise, not what I've come to expect from my iPhone. I didn't even know phones had this ability (not an SMS or push notification). Is it just smart phones that have this capability?

I got something similar a while back for a weather alert: http://aaronparecki.com/notes/2012/12/16/2/iphone-emergency-...

Looking through the iPhone's notification settings there are new "AMBER Alerts" and "Emergency Alerts" settings along with all the apps.

The first time I got the alert (non-amber) it took me by surprise. Having never seen/heard of it I thought it was mistake/joke.

It was a flash flood alert in Las Vegas, a desert. It happened again the following day but this time a friend shared with me a pic of a flooded Caeser's Palace casino. It helped me avoid that area.

It is part of iOS. You can enable/disable "Government" alerts through Settings->Notifications (at the very bottom).

It's a part of iOS in that SMS' are a part. It's technically a part of GSM technology.


Pedant away!

Could someone explain why it was sent to the entire _state_? What is someone 500 miles away supposed to do?

3 days of missing people + 60mph travel speed = a hell of a lot more than 500 miles.

if the vehicle is somewhere in california, they want to find it.

3 days? I only see "Sunday Evening" [1], which is just one day...

[1] http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_23803011/amber-a...

Got it on my HTC One (Sprint). At first I thought the fire alarm was going off.

By the title I thought you were talking about the next Windows Phone update.

What's that? Like emergency notification on mobile?

Sort of, it's a system for alerting the public specifically about kidnapped children. The alerts show up on billboards and they're broadcast on TV and radio, generally within a single town or small area. I think it's in use throughout North America.

Usually the idea is they'll send out a description of a car and a license plate, and if you see it you're supposed to call 911 (emergency response number).


Hmm, my girlfriend just got that too. Interesting.

they have been effective in AZ

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