Raleigh, N.C. — The Amber Alert system is designed to get everyone's attention when a child could be in danger, so officials have started sending the alerts directly to cellphones to cut through the clutter of messages on computers and televisions.
"When we issue an Amber Alert on a child, time is so critical," said Nona Best, supervisor for the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons.
Last week, the center issued its first statewide alert via cellphone when 1-year-old Shylin Neal disappeared from a Food Lion parking lot in High Point. She had been sleeping inside an SUV that was stolen.
Best said cellphone alerts have gone out previously but only on a regional basis. In the High Point case, she said, the girl was with a stranger, and authorities had no idea where they were headed.
"We don't want to wake somebody up in Charlotte for an Amber Alert that's in Wilmington, especially if we think it's still local," she said.
About eight hours later, the girl was found unharmed, and the Amber Alert was canceled.
The Amber Alerts are part of the federal Wireless Emergency Alert system, which started this year. The system also includes weather alerts and presidential alerts.
Raleigh residents said that the text alerts are worth the trouble, even if they come in the middle of the night like last week's alert.
"I think it's great that you get a text message in case you see something and you can help out the public," Kareem Sea said.
"Think about it, just because it originates in High Point, it only takes several hours to get to Raleigh," Christina Hayes said.
People who don't want to receive the alert system can opt out by contacting their cell service provider, Best said, adding that presidential alerts cannot be canceled.