End result was good, but 'Amber Plan' could have worked much better

Thursday, September 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The return of two young children to their parents only hours after their abduction has drawn praise for and raised question about the warning system that helped find them.

Monique and Demetri Collette were found Wednesday morning near Miami when a man spotted their mothers stolen vehicle after hearing the story on radio. Radio and television warned their audiences of the missing children under what’s called the “Amber Plan.”

The parents of the children are thankful to have their children back and say they think the system worked great. What they may not know is that the system failed to work outside of the Tulsa broadcast area.

"There may have been some breakdown in equipment,” said Tulsa County Commissioner John Selph. “Based upon what the governor's office told me, apparently there was some delay in notifying the Oklahoma City media."

The kidnappers apparently traveled northeast on the Will Rogers Turnpike. Had they traveled towards Oklahoma City, the children may not have been found before something tragic happened. Officials are blaming it on a statewide network meant to notify all media outlets of an emergency.

"There was a glitch,” said Carl Smith, Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. “It went out of DPS okay, but it didn't leave the network and get out statewide."

The first step in the Amber Plan is for the activating agency, in this case the Tulsa Police, to determine the validity of the abduction. They say that took about an hour.

Then they contact the Department of Public Safety which activates the statewide emergency alert system through the Oklahoma News Network. The alerts reach Oklahoma broadcasters through a box owned by every radio and television station in the state.

The state requested a test of this Emergency Alert System back in November, but was denied by the Federal Communications Commission. That meant Tuesday night’s activation of the system was the first time it’s ever been used.

Some stations around the state say they received cryptic alerts. The Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters estimates 60 percent of Oklahoma's stations never even received the alert. That’s well short of the statewide goal of perfection.

"We want that to be right at 100 percent,” said Selph. “We need to be assured that everyone is receiving that alert."

Selph does say the plan worked well, but it could work better.

“We need to do whatever can be done to make sure that it works at 100 percent capacity," said Selph.