Blue Alerts Notify the Public When Police Are Injured or Killed

The Blue Alerts are delivered through FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to notify the public of imminent danger. It’s already played a role in the capture of one cop killer.

by Jim McKay / April 26, 2019
The funeral procession for California Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Licon makes its way through the intersection of Madison Street and Magnolia Avenue in Riverside, Calif., Tuesday morning, April 16, 2019. The 53-year-old Licon was fatally hit by a car on April 6 after he had pulled someone over for speeding on Interstate 15 in Lake Elsinore. Michael Joseph Callahan of Winchester was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in Licon's death. AP/Will Lester

When Newman, Calif., police officer, Ronil Singh, was murdered in December 2018, a Blue Alert was issued to notify the public of the dangers of a killer on the loose and to help apprehend the suspect.

The Blue Alert, a brief message issued via FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), was issued by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in the Fresno and Merced areas where the suspect was believed to be on the run. The embedded link in the alert that contained a flyer with added information on the suspect was clicked on by more than a million cellphones within 30 minutes.

Developed by OnSolve, Blue Alert is a new addition to IPAWS to provide law enforcement officials with the ability to alert the public of injury or death of a law enforcement official. It is administered in California by the CHP, which acts on information provided by the local agency seeking to send an alert.

The perpetrator of officer Singh’s death was captured, and the alert had an indirect effect on his apprehension, officials said.

“It was another tip that ultimately led to the arrest, but had it not been for turning on all those eyes, they wouldn’t have known that the tip was as good as it was,” said CHP Lt. Noel Coady. “[Law enforcement] was receiving multiple pieces of information as a result of the alert that led them to a general area and then they got an inside tip that they could justify based on all the other information.”

Blue Alerts can be issued in any of the following circumstances according to the FCC:
•    When a law enforcement officer is killed or seriously injured in the line of duty
•    When an officer is missing in connection with official duties
•    When there is an imminent and credible threat to kill or seriously injure a law enforcement officer.

States can apply through FEMA to adopt Blue Alerts as they would for Amber and Silver alerts. “You take an event like the Boston Marathon bombing, although initially centered on the public, it eventually involved law enforcement, so being able to send descriptions on what to look for is invaluable,” said Troy Harper, OnSolve’s general manager of Public Sector. “I think it’s going to help create a deeper bond between the responders and the public.”

CHP’s Emergency Notification and Tactical Alert Center, where alerts are activated, is staffed 24 hours a day with a supervisor and three officers. It works with the 515 or so police and sheriff’s departments throughout the state on alerting the public.

“All officers are trained on the technical side of activations and the legal side of what qualifies for an activation,” said Counterterrorism Threat Awareness Section Sgt. Dan Fansler, of the center. When we receive calls from local law enforcement, our primary job is to support them and their wish, but also to ensure all the statutory requirements are met.”

Once that happens, center personnel identify a geographical region where the alerts would most likely target the individuals who would be in a position to see something based on the circumstances of who they are looking for and where he or she might be.

The messages are usually brief, as they are limited to 90 characters, and that’s why CHP embeds links with added information into the messages as it did in the Singh case. “It allows an individual to access our Twitter page, on which we then have a flyer we’ve created that has photos and information on the subjects or missing children or vehicle or all of the above,” Fansler said.
Future plans are to release the Blue Alert to Wireless Emergency Alerts as well.