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Amber Alert System for India?


Recently the kidnapping of Adobe Systems manager’s child made a lot of news. These crimes are one of the most delicate to handle. Also response from people is almost zero. Nobody looks at the lost kids’ faces shown on TV. Not because people don’t care, but more because it is impractical to remember a face on TV and copare it with every stranger you see. But with the help of latest advances in technology, especially cell phone technology, people can play a big role in finding abducted kids.

Amber alert system in USA is the emergency warning system for child abduction. You can google it and know more about it. But basically it is as follows.

When a child is abducted and is thought to be in life threatening situation, Amber alert is issued. The life threatening situation is determined by answering following questions

  1. Is the child abducted by stranger? When abducted by stranger, especially girl abducted by a man, that is definitely the most life threatening situation.
  2. Is the alert incidence less than 3 hours old? Statistics shows that the chances of finding a child abducted are maximum in first three hours.
  3. Identification by public is possible. For example car license plate number is seen and reported from crime scene.

Not every child abduction report results in Amber alert. Because if there are too many messages, then people would automatically ignore it and system would not be effective.

Alert is issued the following way

  1. As a text message on cell phone of all those who sign up and who are within the postal code where the alert is issued.
  2. Radio stations and TV channels.
  3. Automatic fax message (this can include photographs)
  4. Web news ticker applet on participating websites, which are usually local newspaper websites.

The point is to make very quick very intense local impact. Within less than an hour, almost a million people know the license plate number of abducting car or taxi. This makes the escape virtually impossible.

If the abduction is identified quickly and alert is issued in time, This usually results in a big rush of sighting reports in first half hour of issuing the alert. Those are sorted mostly by law enforcement agencies but sometimes volunteer help is also sought. Even thought each and every report cannot be confirmed, many times there are indeed useful threads for further investigation. This has helped a lot of children get free again and has put a lot of criminals behind bars.

The system is named after a girl called Amber. She was abducted and killed. So when the system was put in place and donations were sought, her parents made biggest donation to name the system after their daughter.

Last decade has seen an explosion of cell phones in India. We can, by community participation put such a system in place.

To start with we can create a system that is specifically oriented to finding cars with given license plates, the alerts being limited to cell phones and websites tickers. The website should be modeled on the lines of craigslist. So it can be easily replicated to work for any country, any city.

The technical aspects of such a system are not difficult. Difficult aspects are the following.

  1. Considerable research must go in requirement analysis to make the system effective.
  2. A common interface with cell phone service providers will need to be negotiated. These cell phone messages must be free, so that signing people need not worry about costs.
  3. Processes for handling the sighting reports at law enforcement agencies will need to be established, or at least recommended.
  4. A lot of thought must go in how to make the system most effective. The crime records must be researched to find the patterns of criminal actions that lead to fatalities. What is the most common age of criminals that kill children? In how much time they killed their victim? How far they traveled before the fatality occurred? Answers to all these questions will tell us what is the best way to stop them.
  5. Linux operated PC connected with modem can be included as part of system to handle phone calls, where callers can leave message.
  6. The system must need least amount of maintenance.

In addition to increasing chances of finding a lost children, this exercise will serve additional purposes like

  • To encourage community participation to do something constructive-

We are a democratic society. Our systems are best chance of our success.

There is a lot of frustration in all of us, there is a lot of creative energy floating around in our schools and campuses. That needs to be channeled. People must come out of mindset that they can just go to cast vote once in five years and expect all problems to be taken care of by government.

We have lot of talent. But far too long we have just let ourselves be used as a low cost sweatshop, cheap labor. Our skills and our talents must be put to use to solve our problems. We can do a lot to improve our life with just what we have.

  • Learning to handle information explosion and to use it for our benefit-

We all are living in the era of information explosion. Lots of information will be available and the only those who learn to filter, process, present and use it for decision making will make progress. If this project succeeds, following are some more things that can be explored. This way we can turn information into strategic advantage.

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