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Jason

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[Jul. 17th, 2013|06:13 am]
Jason
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Ugggggh had a minor but false-alarm heart attack when I woke up to find my phone's URGENT EMERGENCY ALERT app telling me
Manhattan, NY AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/GEX1377 (NY) (1995) Tan Lexis ES300

Alert type:
AMBER alert

Severity: Severe
Significant threat to life or property

Urgency: Immediate
Responsive action should be taken immediately

Alert response type: Monitor
Attend to information sources

and I am like WHAT THE HELL KIND OF THING HAS JUST HAPPENED WHAT DO ALL THESE MYSTERIOUS SYMBOLS AND LETTERS MEAN and all kinds of worst-case scenarios are going through my head because it's like five thirty in the morning and I am not the most rational having just woken up and finally I drag myself over to google and...

It's about a child abducted by a noncustodial parent, which is maybe somewhere in the five boroughs by now, since the abduction took place last night. And it's in a tan Lexus ES300, which, you know, is a kind of car that the police are interested in finding.

Urgh. I know this is a bad situation for the kid, but in a city of eight million people maybe doing crimes some fraction of the time, I have this sense that doing uninformative, misspelled push notifications to everybody's cell phone at 3:51am hours after a crime has taken place is maybe not the best approach.

---

Wow, apparently I am late to the party. Specifically amber alerts have been a feature of some phones in some regions for well over a year apparently? And have been similarly confusing people all the while? I mean, I get URGENT FLASH FLOOD WARNING every time it rains rather heavily, and I've learned to not panic at those, but these are new to me.

I'm fascinated by the discussion around it. The "it's for saving the children" angle gets people's emotions up, apparently? People saying, quote, "if y'all don't know what a amber alert is by now you should be ashamed." Why is that, exactly? How could I possibly have made a decision to find out about a program that I don't know exists?
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: gregh1983
2013-07-17 01:28 pm (UTC)
Well, Amber Alerts for missing kids have been around since 1996 and are mentioned on TV news and in newspapers, so that's probably why people are making strong assumptions that "everyone" knows about the concept. (I think the component about sending emergency alerts of any kind to phones is much newer, though.)

My problem in all this -- aside from the spelling error, which you definitely do not want in an emergency message -- is the fact that the alert you got makes it sound like you are in immediate horrible danger too. I'm not sure what severe effect a missing kid has on your life and property, and immediate responsive action seems terribly unlikely/unhelpful unless you happen to see the right car. I'm all for disseminating information, but it should be the right information.
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[User Picture]From: bhudson
2013-07-17 04:47 pm (UTC)
I don't want spelling errors in my morning daily. I'm dubious of the value of sending an *emergency* alert to the copyeditor.

That said, the format listed above is worthless. Highway alerts are legible: amber alert, description of car. Maybe "call 911 if you see this car".

I didn't know what an amber alert was in 1999, the first time I saw one. That date is the first time I started doing much freeway driving. I assume the reason jcreed hasn't heard about it is that he probably doesn't drive often, doesn't watch TV news much, and on top of all that has a PhD.
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2013-07-17 04:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I haven't driven on a regular basis since 1998, and even then it's mostly been confined to madison, which doesn't have many large flashy highway signs.
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2013-07-17 04:50 pm (UTC)
You're actually probably right that getting emergency messages out is more important than dotting every i and crossing every t in them, I was just complaining about the misspelling for extra spite.
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[User Picture]From: gregh1983
2013-07-18 03:52 am (UTC)
I'm not meaning to accuse jcreed of being dense; I just wanted to point out that a widespread assumption that someone of adult age will have done enough driving, seen enough TV, read enough newspapers, talked to enough people, or whatever else to have heard of an Amber Alert before is in general pretty justified. Of course some people may not have, but I think the probabilities are very against it, which would answer jcreed's "Why is that?" question and explain the vibe he was getting.

And yeah, as a copy editor myself I'm probably prone to assuming that most other people should be too, especially in high-stakes situations :-P
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2013-07-18 04:06 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm completely comfortable with someone being *surprised* that I haven't heard of it. It's only the "ashamed" in "if y'all don't know what a amber alert is by now you should be ashamed" that I mean to draw attention to.
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From: altamira16
2013-07-17 01:36 pm (UTC)
The amber alerts also go up on the electronic signs on the interstate. They try to find the kids quickly because there are those cases where abducted kids get killed. But I think society creates a great feel of stranger abduction when a lot of it is non-custodial parent abduction.
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[User Picture]From: roseandsigil
2013-07-17 04:51 pm (UTC)
Fascinating; I didn't even get the text, just "! AMBER ALERT". I did know what it was, but it was still useless.

Yours is utterly terrifying, actually. Especially

"
Severity: Severe
Significant threat to life or property

Urgency: Immediate
Responsive action should be taken immediately
"
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From: wjl
2013-07-17 08:06 pm (UTC)
I wonder if those texts are generated from a numerical severity level by some automated system, and some law enforcement officer noob was like, "this is super important! Priority 1!"..

For sure, finding abducted kids is important and all, but the message here is definitely incongruous.
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From: simrob
2013-07-18 03:58 pm (UTC)
The CMAS system probably is optimized for weather alerts: the wording "significant threat to life or property" makes more sense when you're thinking about a tornado.
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From: queen_elvis
2013-07-17 08:16 pm (UTC)
Does this stuff come to your phone via your phone carrier's policies, or is there some kind of NY law, or is there maybe an opt-in provision that you chose without realizing it was so spammy? I have never gotten a push notification about an Amber alert or a weather condition or anything else. I have to agree that it is of dubious value, especially if that text is 100% of what you saw. No information appears to have been provided about the child supposedly abducted.
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[User Picture]From: roseandsigil
2013-07-17 08:43 pm (UTC)
The US has been building the infrastructure to send emergency alerts to cell phones for the past few years, but it's only slowly being adopted by carriers and phone manufacturers. It sounds like this one just happens to have been the first amber alert in the middle of the night since they started delivering them in 2012

Here's a little info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercial_Mobile_Alert_System . It looks like your carrier has to opt in (but the big ones have), but also if you have an old phone you might not get the messages.
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[User Picture]From: toorsdenote
2013-07-17 10:39 pm (UTC)
Just as a side note, because this is one of my top "OMG we live in the future" factlets: in Japan, these built-in mobile alerts include EARTHQUAKE WARNINGS. As soon as an earthquake is detected, alerts are sent to cell phones of people in the region. The process is so fast that most people get the alert up to 20 seconds BEFORE the earthquake reaches them, giving them time to duck under a table or whatever. It also tells them whether a tsunami is likely. Oh, and a parallel alert system automatically applies brakes on all nearby bullet trains.

Totally blows my mind.
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[User Picture]From: dvarin
2013-07-18 12:49 am (UTC)
I've gotten one of these!

Though in my case it came about a minute after everyone else in the office got theirs (and the earthquake had already happened). Maybe my phone had an unfortunate delivery route.

(As an aside, the earthquake warning had a comprehensible message--unlike the example Amber Alert.)
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From: queen_elvis
2013-07-18 03:46 am (UTC)
Thank you for that link; if true (always a concern with Wikipedia), it tells you how to opt out.
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From: simrob
2013-07-18 04:01 pm (UTC)
AMBER alerts as a usage of the interstate highway information display signs make a lot of sense to me. Phones less so.

This page gives instructions on how to turn off alerts on a Samsung G4 and gives some additional history: "This all started in June of 2012 when the federal government and wireless service providers built a system called the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). This system sends text-like messages to wireless phones that are in the vicinity of an impacted area. Standard text messaging charges do not apply. I repeat standard text messaging charges do not apply, so you don’t have to worry about being charged for them if you are not subscribed to a texting package. Even so, many people find these rather annoying. The good news is that you can opt out of MOST of them."

You can turn them all off except for "Presidential Alerts" which I can only imagine are like for OMG PUTIN NUKED US SORRY ABOUT THIS Y'ALL - OBAMA OUT style messages.
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[User Picture]From: jcreed
2013-07-18 04:05 pm (UTC)
There's something about SORRY ABOUT THIS in all caps that invariably reminds me of http://achewood.com/index.php?date=06032002
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[User Picture]From: dvarin
2013-07-18 01:04 am (UTC)
A side point, but I've always been confused by why reports like this sometimes use car descriptions of the type [Color] [Year] [Make] [Model]. I mean, it's a concise and specific indicator, but at least to me everything except color conveys almost no information at all because I cannot tell a Lexus from an Audi from a Toyota just by looking at it. (Unless I'm close enough to read the maker's name on the back, and that doesn't help with year.) Do most people unrelated to the auto industry actually know what these things look like from the name?

Some reports also include general descriptors like "2-door" and "sedan" which seem much more useful.
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[User Picture]From: gf2e
2013-07-18 09:14 am (UTC)
I can usually identify an Audi or a BMW by the headlight shape. Audi has lots of LEDs. But, generally, yes, I would find the make and model info decently helpful. My previous car was a Saturn, so I am not a car person. I only have a BS in CS though.
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