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Child Alert system helps to protect kids



Published: Mon, August 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The county is looking for more people to serve as lookouts in abduction cases.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- With all the national attention being paid to the Amber Alert system, Mahoning County authorities want residents to know they've got a similar system.

They haven't had to use it yet for its intended purpose, locating abducted children.

Amber Alert is a system used when a child is abducted. Police notify radio and television stations quickly with a description of the child and other information, such as a description of the getaway car.

In the past few weeks, Amber Alert has been credited with helping to recover the victims of several high-profile abductions across the country.

Amber Alert is named after Amber Hagerman, 9, who was abducted in 1996 in Arlington, Texas, and found dead four days later.

Local system

In Mahoning County, a similar system, called Child Alert, has been in place since March 2000, said Maggi McGee, Mahoning County 911 director.

Bob Fish, local field representative for the Child Alert Foundation of Dushore, Pa., said Mahoning was the first Ohio county to use the system. Columbiana, Trumbull and Stark counties also have it now, as does Cleveland, he said.

"I think the commissioners recognized very early -- before Sept. 11 and before the recent [national] rash of child abductions -- that one of our primary missions is to provide public safety through communication to protect our children," said county administrator Gary Kubic.

Spreading information

Someone who suspects that a child has been kidnapped can call 911 and make a report. That information will be immediately distributed to police and others within a 100-mile radius of the county, McGee said.

Special computer software also uses the Internet to alert and distribute information to the media, various public safety organizations, businesses, civic groups and other support agencies. The information can be sent through pagers, cellular telephones, fax machines or e-mail.

The information would contain the missing child's name and description, special medical need or conditions and the last place the child was seen.

It also would include a description of the suspected kidnapper, a description of the car they are in, and their direction of travel, McGee said.

Notification network

Any group or business who wishes to be included in the notification network need only contact the county 911 office. McGee said she'll take all the help she can get.

"The more people it gets out to, obviously the more eyes and ears we have helping us trying to locate the child," she said.

There is no cost involved to participate in the program, and all information, such as participants' telephone numbers, is kept confidential, McGee said.

Walter Duzzny, the county's emergency management agency director, said he's working with local builders and real estate agents to join the network.

"Within minutes, you'd have 40,000 people out there looking for someone," he said.

County officials hope the system will be even further enhanced as part of a total overhaul of the 911 system that began earlier this year, Kubic added.

While the system has yet to be used in a child abduction case, it has worked effectively in tracking down runaway children and elderly adults who've wandered away from nursing homes, McGee said.

bjackson@vindy.com




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