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I was watching TV over the weekend, early morning, when all the channels went black with white lettering. They do this routine weekly test thing with a horn honking, but this wasn’t that. The horn honked, but then I read the screen and it was an Amber-alert-type deal. It told the areas that were on alert for a missing child: D.C., Falls Church, Alexandria, and maybe some others, but there was no information about the kid or a picture or description or anything. So my question is, what are we supposed to do when these alerts run?
Turn up the volume. When an Amber Alert—or any other Emergency Alert System (EAS)—message pops up on your television, most of the necessary information will be transmitted via audio originating from a local radio station. The station, which in much of the District is WTOP, will describe the situation and how to respond.
EAS messages are the result of a collaboration between the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Weather Service. The agencies require Comcast and other cable providers to broadcast national messages such as the 8-second weekly tests or presidential announcements in the event of emergency. (No president has yet used the system.)
There are also some state and local EAS messages, such as some National Weather Service announcements and, yes, “Amber Alerts” that notify the public that someone has abducted a child. Presumably, what you saw was an Amber Alert, which was invented after the 1996 kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman from Arlington, Texas, and was made a national program in 2003. Last month, there was only one alert in the D.C. area, according to Comcast. The audio that accompanied the alert noted descriptions of the abductor and child, as well as instructions about when and how you should contact local police.
Every Monday, the ‘Huh?’ Bub takes your questions. Got one?