The announcement came Wednesday, Jan 12 — the day before the 15th anniversary of the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, for whom the alert system was named. Amber Alerts, which stands for America’s Missing Broadcasting Emergency Response, was created in 2003 and utilizes the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to notify broadcasters and state transportation officials about a recently abducted child.

The alert system has helped rescue 443 children nationwide, according to Facebook.

Facebook created 53 new Amber Alert pages, one for every state, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Users who “like” their local Amber Alert page will receive notifications about child abductions in their news feed and can share the information with their friends, Facebook officials said during a press conference held in Alexandria, Va. News about a missing child in Seattle, for example, will not appear to those who have signed up for Virginia’s Amber Alert page. However, if it’s believed a child or abductor might be in another city, then the alerts can be issued in more than one state.

“Our goal is to reach everyone who might have seen something or know something,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the organization partnering with Facebook on this initiative. “Today we take another bold step to engage millions more. Life-saving Amber Alerts are now going to be available to the millions of people on the social-networking giant Facebook,” he said.

So far, the word is spreading. More than 4,000 people have “liked” the Calif. page, almost 5,000 for the New York page, and 8,600 for Texas’ page.

Police have successfully used social media in the past to notify the public about missing children, which may have been the inspiration for Facebook to make the alerts official.

During the press conference, Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, spoke about one of these instances. Early last month, he posted an Amber Alert on the Virginia State Police Facebook page about the abduction of 12-year-old Brittany Mae Smith, whose mother had been found murdered and who was believed to have been taken by her mother’s boyfriend.

The alert went to the police’s more than 24,000 fans, along with photos of Brittany, her alleged abductor and the car he was believed to be driving. The department continued to update its Facebook page with leads. After a week of searching, police found the alleged kidnapper and Brittany outside a store in San Francisco after being recognized by a woman who had seen their photos on CNN. The girl was returned safely to her family.

“Social media enabled law enforcement to reach beyond our borders in the search for a missing and endangered 12-year-old girl,” Flaherty said.

Lauren Katims Nadeau  |  Contributing Writer