The emergency broadcast system, known as the N.C. Child Alert Network, broadcasts information about missing children in life-threatening situations to television and radio stations that have agreed to be part of the network. Although the system has not been used in an actual case yet, it has been in place for two weeks.
The previous alert system involved faxing reports to radio, newspapers and television stations in the hopes they would broadcast the information.
Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass said the system will make tracking down missing children significantly more efficient.
"The system has a turnaround time of minutes compared to hours," he said.
John Goad, director of the missing child center in Raleigh, said timing is crucial in cases of missing children. Goad said that in most cases when children are abducted, they are found dead within three hours -- either at the hands of their kidnappers or because of natural causes such as the weather.
The alert system involves law enforcement officers verifying an abduction by a stranger and then transmitting the information to the network in Raleigh, where it is broadcasted immediately to member radio and television stations, such as WRAL in Raleigh and WFJA in Sanford.
Goad modeled the broadcast system after a similar alert system in Dallas called the Amber Plan. The Amber Plan was enacted after the disappearance and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in 1996.
Goad had two main goals in developing the N.C. CAN system -- to deter would-be abductors and to speed up the investigation process.
"If you abduct a child, you will have thousands of viewers and listeners looking for you," Goad said.
The Raleigh version of the system is different from the Amber Plan because missing person reports are sent to one location in Raleigh and then transmitted to radio and television stations, whereas in Dallas, the transmissions are routed from multiple locations to radio stations.
Goad said there were about 10,000 missing person cases in the state last year, 75 percent of which were juveniles.
Goad said one of the main advantages of the new system is that it costs nothing and television programming will be unaffected.
"Television stations don't even have to interrupt their broadcast, they just put crawlers at the bottom of the screen," Goad said.
A crawler is a banner that appears at the bottom of the screen and flashes an urgent message.
Although Chapel Hill police officials have yet to implement the system in their jurisdiction, Pendergrass said he is expecting town law enforcement to implement the new system in addition to Chatham, Harnett, Lee, Moore and Wake counties.
He said, "I would be awfully surprised if (other agencies) don't jump right on it."
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