Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a broadcast station's potential liability when airing an Amber Alert?
A: There is a very strict protocol that police agencies use to determine if an abduction has occurred. Every missing child will not necessarily activate the Amber Alert. The Michigan State Police (MSP) and local law enforcement professionals will make that determination. If you receive calls from citizens about their missing child, pleaserefer them to the MSP. Only Amber Alert activations by the MSP provide statute-based protection for broadcast stations.
MAB received an opinion from libel and first amendment attorney John Ronayne. His opinion states that as long as the information comes to a station from the Michigan State Police, the announcements that the station makes are covered by statute, which protects accurate reports of a "governmental notice, announcement, (or) written.report." (MCLA 600.2911).
Important: stations will notice that the term "alleged abductor" is used. Always use the term "alleged".
Q: Can you tell me more about the use of the Emergency Alert System for Amber Alerts?
A: The MAB has been working to add the Emergency Alert System (EAS) as a distribution channel for Amber Alerts. During the past several months we have provided new electronic chips to broadcast stations so their EAS receivers are able to recognize Amber Alerts that are distributed through the system. Now, in addition to the existing fax network and statewide email distributions, Amber Alerts will be available via EAS. Individual stations can program their receievers to automatically air the alerts when they arrive or delay them until the next programming break. Amber Alerts are issued just once through EAS. Broadcasters should check this portal for updates and cancellation notices.
Q: Can a station mention the name and/or broadcast a photo of the child that is abducted?
A: The only information that a station can broadcast will be filled out on the form that stations receive via fax from the Michigan State Police. The child's parents or guardians must give their consent to use the child's name and/or picture. Keep in mind that, if nothing else, a station can simply broadcast the description.
Q: How does the Amber Alert work?
A: On the law enforcement side, all alerts funnel through a specific office at the Michigan State Police. MAB has worked with this office to equip them with a broadcast fax solution which contains all stations fax numbers, as well as list of emails for individuals who have asked to be notified when an alert is issued. Within seconds of getting an Alert, the MSP verify the information and then broadcast fax it to stations in the appropriate geographic area. All faxes are sent promptly to those stations. MAB has gathered multiple fax numbers for each station and maintains the database of these numbers for the MSP. Stations have been asked to provide MAB with fax numbers that get to the most appropriate people who will put the notice immediately on the air. Stations should educate on-air personalities, engineers, control room personnel and other staff of the importance of this program.
In addition, the alert is issued to email addresses that have been provided by broadcasters. The emails are issued statewide, not by smaller geographic areas, and let broadcasters know they should check their fax machines or this portal for information.
Q: Will stations receive notice when the child is found?
A: The Michigan State Police headquarters will issue an update notice through the same system when a child is found. Please note that the cancellation will not be issued via EAS.
Q: Should calls come to the broadcast station?
A: No. Stations should state in the broadcast "do not contact this station". Any information regarding the alerts must go to the local division of law enforcement handling the case or through 911.
Q: How can I better educate my station and ensure that Amber Alert works well?
A: The MAB has sent all stations a flier, brochure and other information on how Amber Alert works in Michigan. Stations may request additional copies from MAB to help continue to educate staff. Please post these materials in your control room and near the fax machines.
Q: Why are broadcasters involved?
A: Radio and television stations believe strongly in serving their local communities. Amber Alert is one way in which free, over-the-air broadcasters can help the communities they serve. For more information on Michigan broadcasters' community service, read the MAB's Community Service Survey.