Utahns say Amber Alert too vague to be effective

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An Amber Alert from Nov. 20 leaves Utah residents confused by its vague message which prompted people to call 511 for information on the situation. (Kylie McCann)

Utah residents voiced concern over social media after a vague Amber Alert was issued late Wednesday night, Nov. 20.

The Amber Alert read, “UT AMBER Alert: Dial 511 for more information.” No identification of suspects, victims or indicators of transportation used in the kidnapping were listed.

Utah residents turned to Twitter and other social media platforms to discover that the Amber Alert was about a three-week-old girl who was abducted from Clinton, Utah, by her birth mother Taylor Webb. The pair were believed to be en-route to the Modesto, Calif, area at the time.

Since the notification was unclear, some residents questioned its legitimacy and wondered how serious the issue was. Utah resident Maddi Tapp was a little hesitant when she first received the notification.

“I thought, ‘This may be a scam,'” Tapp said. “’Call 511 for more information’” seemed too vague, but then I remembered 511 is a government number.”

She suggested that anything that helps members of the community know what to look for — such as what direction the suspect may attempt to go or even something as simple as their gender — would be helpful.

She believes that Amber Alerts are incredible if done correctly. If the message provides as much information as possible and is not vague, people are more likely to act on it, she said.

Tapp referred to the method of sharing important information as a way to “crowdsource safety” in a community because police cannot be everywhere at all times.

Utah resident Margo Teknologia was also confused as to what was happening when she received the alert.

“My first reaction was to check social media for any information since the alert itself was incredibly vague,” Teknologia said.

Although the alert prompted citizens to call 511 for more information, the phone line immediately became bombarded with phone calls. The high volume of calls caused residents to be greeted by a busy signal or an automated voice saying the line had been discontinued.

Teknologia made the decision not to even try calling the 511 number after getting onto social media and seeing various posts about others not being able to get through. Instead, she decided to get updates through social media and not rely on Utah’s automated notifications.

Teknologia said she believes there should be an option for people to opt-in for updates and alerts from a bare-bones Amber Alert and that consistently updating people on the status of the issue will make a difference in the efficiency of the text program. Along with updates throughout the alert, she also believes being updated on what happens is beneficial.

“It’s helpful to know when a person of interest has left the area or the person has been found, which most reports neglect unless someone is watching the news,” Teknologia said.

BYU professor Adam Durfee has experience working with the Department of Public Safety. He suggested that to improve their communication with the public, the department should have a Chatbot on its website and be active on social media to answer immediate questions.

“People like to make calls less now than ever before,” Durfee said. “Manning phone lines and automated messages on a voicemail system are slower and more time-consuming than Chatbot scripts.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Friday, Nov. 22 that the Amber Alert has since been canceled.

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