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Update: The Missing Child NYC Texted About at 4am Was Found Safe

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Did you get a cell-phone alert at 4 a.m. this morning? Here's why.

The loud beep coming from your cell phone just before 4 a.m. this morning was sent by a federal agency. Starting January 1st of this year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) began sending out national alerts to notify locals that a child is missing in their area. The federal government also sends out Wireless Emergency Alerts (or WEAs) in cases of extreme weather or if the President issues an emergency alert.

WEAs are sent to cell-phone users within a specific geographical area. According to FEMA, more than 100 wireless carriers, including the major ones, are part of the WEA system. Some cell-phone providers allow users to opt out of receiving the emergency messages, except for the Presidential alerts.

New York City has had three Amber Alerts since January, according to New York City's Office of Emergency Management spokesman Christopher Miller. It isn't clear why the previous Amber Alert wasn't also issued via a WEA.

The NYC OEM is the only city agency that can issue a WEA, but it's only done so three times, all during Sandy.  The WEA system is separate from New York City's own alert system, called Notify NYC, which sends voice messages, texts, and emails to subscribers.

Update: According to NY1, the missing child was found safe and his biological mother, who took him during a supervised visit, is in police custody.

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