Law enforcement agencies in northern Nevada and eastern California joined businesses and broadcasters Monday to test Nevada's Amber Alert system for locating missing children.
"We've never done a test where we put everyone through the drill," said Adrienne Abbott, chairwoman of the State Emergency Communications Committee.
The emergency alert system is used by the National Weather Service to issue severe weather warnings and by safety officials to warn the public about other immediate emergencies, such as fire evacuations, hazardous materials spills and 911 service outages.
The 2003 Legislature approved a measure establishing a statewide Amber Alert program using the emergency alert system to quickly spread the word when children are reported missing and believed to be in danger. President Bush signed a bill extending the system nationwide.
Though broadcasters are required to test emergency alert systems monthly to ensure they're working properly, Monday's Amber Alert drill involved a spectrum of participants, from law enforcement agencies to media outlets and casinos.
"What we're checking here is the ability from the field up," Abbott said.
The system was activated at 11:30 a.m. by radio station KKOH in Reno, after it was notified by the Washoe County sheriff's office.
Instead of relaying news about a missing child, Monday's drill featured a recorded message from Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam, who said information relayed by broadcasters "can play a role in the safe return of abducted children."
KKOH-AM is the primary station in the Reno area that activates the alert at the request of law enforcement agencies. Public Radio station KUNR-FM is the backup station.
When activated, an Amber Alert triggers the rapid dissemination of information about abducted children and alleged suspects and vehicles using radio and television broadcasts and programmable highway signs.
In northern Nevada, SBC Communications, Sierra Pacific Power Co., and paging service Metrocall have joined as partners in the effort, as have Boomtown, John Ascuaga's Nugget and the Reno Hilton, which have agreed to flash Amber Alerts on their casino marquees, officials said.
"Depending on how well this goes today, we will do similar tests in southern Nevada and eastern Nevada," Abbott said.
Western Nevada and eastern California agencies established a regional child protection program in March 2001 using the emergency alert system. The local program was dedicated in memory of 9-year-old Krystal Steadman, who was kidnapped from a Lake Tahoe apartment complex in 2000 and murdered.
It was patterned after the Amber Alert program that was launched in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 1996 after the abduction and killing of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman.
Abbott said the system in western Nevada has been activated three times and led to the safe recovery of four children.
California has had a statewide Amber Alert system since July 2002.
Nationally, Amber Alerts are credited with the recovery of 100 children, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.