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Pre-Dawn Wireless Emergency Alert Wakes Up NYC 382

New submitter SkiTee94 writes "Many people, perhaps millions, in and around NYC were loudly awoken shortly before 4am this morning by an activation of the Wireless Emergency Alert system. As the New York Times is reporting, the alert was related to an ongoing search for a missing child. Given that the alert asked people to look out for a 'Tan Lexus ES300' with NY Plate 'GEX1377,' many New Yorkers are questioning the logic of waking up the whole city to ask them to look for a car. Normally such alerts are reserved for road-side signs. While emergency authorities have yet to give a precise reason for why the decision was made to wake up the city, many have taken the step of deactivating these alerts to avoid future jolting mid-slumber alarms (likely not the intended result of last night's exercise)."
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Pre-Dawn Wireless Emergency Alert Wakes Up NYC

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  • by Sparticus789 ( 2625955 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:07PM (#44311317) Journal

    You would think in a city with thousands of cameras and surveillance assets, they could find a single car. It's not like the car could get very far, it's New York!

  • by intermodal ( 534361 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:08PM (#44311331) Homepage Journal

    I can barely keep track of the cars around me in some traffic patterns, much less take the time to read each license plate. And seriously, a tan Lexus? Here in Texas, it's inevitably "white Ford Explorer" or "Blue black Chevy pickup" or some other horribly common vehicle. Maybe if kidnappers start driving more distinct cars, like an old VW painted like a ladybug or something, I'll be a little more alert to it.

  • Phone alerts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:08PM (#44311333)

    While emergency authorities have yet to give a precise reason for why the decision was made to wake up the city, many have taken the step of deactivating these alerts to avoid future jolting mid-slumber alarms (likely not the indented result of last night's exercise).

    I don't live in NYC, but my phone settings were recently updated by AT&T to display Amber Alerts and weather alerts. The very first moment one of these went off while I was driving, I decided to shut it off forever as a menace. After all, I noticed that I wasn't the only driver wobbling a little in their lane right after it happened.

    If I was woken in the early morning by one of these things, I just hope I'd have the presence of mind not to throw the damned thing out a window!

  • Not just NYC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrumpetPower! ( 190615 ) <> on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:09PM (#44311339) Homepage

    Last week there was an Amber Alert in the Valley of the Sun. A bit later, I thought that such a system was too easy to abuse...imagine an Amber Alert that says it's for a kidnapped child but actually happens to be for a political dissident like Snowden...and that's when I turned off the Amber Alerts.

    They've also been excessively over-zealous about thunderstorm alerts, but I'm not quite yet ready to turn those off. But if they don't clean up their act fast, I will.


  • Wolf! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:11PM (#44311353)

    Wolf Wolf! Wolf!

  • WTF? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Lord Apathy ( 584315 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:12PM (#44311369)

    Let me get this straight? People are bitching because an alert for a missing child woke them up? So a child's life is less important to you then a few minutes of missing sleep?

    Wow. That certainly puts some peoples priorities in place.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:13PM (#44311383)

    Not only was it stupid to send this alert to everyone's phones, it was yet another example of Amber Alert scope creep.

    Amber Alerts are meant to be restricted to cases where "the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death." []

    This was just another case of a non-custodial parent running off with the kid. The child was not in any imminent danger. She lost custody because of violence in her home (none of which was ever directed at the child).

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:18PM (#44311435)
    Right here on /. I predicted (and was shot down) that this alert system was going to be used badly. The simple reason is that every bureaucrat thinks their job is so very important. Thus any government weenie who got their hands on it would start sending out "helpful" messages. A missing child is not the worst use for this but per usual the government did it about as badly as they could; The message being basically useless.

    What they need to do is to make an opt in system with levels that you can opt into. Level 1 would be for situations where nearly everyone's life is peril. Say a poison gas leak where going outside will kill you. The Boston bombers manhunt would not count as level 1. Level 2 would be a warning about something that could kill you such as to stay away from an area as there is a poison gas leak there. Level 3 would be Lost children who have been taken by bad people (not a custody case) Level 4 would be things like weather alerts.

    But my guess is that the government is going to be captain obvious with most of their alerts and tell people that a storm is coming (that has been in the news for 3 straight days), then it will be political messages of grief and loss (i.e. "My heart goes out to those who...") , and eventually things like reminders to vote and recycle.

    But being the government they believe that their mission is so very important that people should not be able to opt out of this crap. The key is that people need to not be treated like children and the government should not have any special rights. If people want to opt out then they are clearly stating "I don't want your crap".
  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by magic maverick ( 2615475 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:21PM (#44311471) Homepage Journal

    Yes. My sleep is more important than getting woken up at 4am with an alert telling me about a missing child in a city the size of NYC. Who is going to be looking out their window at that time of the morning?

    Let's think about the math. Add up all those minutes of missed sleep. Work out how that equates to minutes of life lost (people dieing earlier), add the car accidents because some people can't get back to sleep if woken up at 4am, and are drowsy when they drive/step off the curb.

    Adds up to more than one child's life is worth.

    Fuck the child. No wait. Forget the child, it's going to be fucked anyway (presumably that's why it got kidnapped?).

  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SecurityTheatre ( 2427858 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:26PM (#44311511)

    Amber Alerts are worthless and do absolutely nothing in over 95% of cases. In the US, there were less than 400 reported stranger abductions, but over 40,000 amber alerts were issued.

    Several police studies have shown them to be quite nearly worthless, but the economic cost of putting up thousands of road signs, deploying massive international tracking and notification systems has counted in the tens of billions of dollars.

    You do realize how many MORE children's lives could be saved by $10 billion in health care and nutritional supplements... or even in mental health, considering the suicide rate amongst children is a factor of TEN higher than the abduction rate.

    Holy crap....

  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:26PM (#44311519) Homepage Journal

    They're bitching because at 4AM in bed there's not a damned thing they could have done about it. Alerts should be confined to situations where being alerted is helpful.

    In prior events, the amber alerts were simply displayed on street signs so that people who might actually have the possibility of spotting the car were told and nobody else.

    To put it in perspective, as sad as it is, if they alert everyone for everything, it will be just one long uninterrupted alarm. people have to prioritize.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:27PM (#44311523)

    Well yes it could.

    People need sleep to function well in society. If you wake up a large portion of NYC and break their sleep. They could be less alert during the day where they may affect the lives of others.

    The alert system really should be information that you really should get kicked out of bed for.
    Tornado, Hurricane, Earthquake, Approaching Fire, Flood, Nuclear Explosion. You know stuff if you stay in bed and sleep in, you could be dead before your normal wake up time.

    It isn't that Amber Alerts are bad, however it shouldn't be on the emergency, get the fuck out of bed alerts.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:35PM (#44311613)

    There are several problems with the alert as it was issued:

    It conveyed information in an arcane, effectively incomprehensible manner.

    People who were asleep aren't going to be useful for finding a car, and pretty much everyone at that particular time of day is going to be asleep, or on a night shift at work.

    People who are driving a car will either have to ignore the message or endanger themselves and everyone around them. Or get shouted at by their car's speaker system, apparently, which is an accident risk itself.

    There's a reason these alerts are traditionally issued via roadside signs and the TV/radio. This was stupid and whoever issued the alert should be fired, because now people are just going to turn off these alerts entirely rather than have to deal with useless, uncommunicative, and potentially dangerous alerts that they can't do anything about anyway.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:37PM (#44311627)

    Welcome to New York City, where it's somebody else's problem.

    Exactly. It is someone else's problem.

    People in a small town can do something useful. People in a big city are probably miles away from where they could do something useful. Sending out this kind of stupid message just encourages them to ignore all messages in future.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @04:38PM (#44311643)

    They are not asking you to look out the window at 4 am or go looking for a missing child.

    Then what's the point?

    They are putting the information out there so you will know a child is missing.

    So why are they doing it at 4am? The breakfast news would be more effective.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:00PM (#44311877)

    More likely, they couldn't be sure the car was actively driving around in an area where a fucking plate reader would be able to capture its plate, so they asked for people to be on the lookout for the car - parked on the street, parked in an alley, parked in a garage, etc.


  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:15PM (#44312007)

    Say what? Where are you getting those numbers? In all of 2011, []there were a total of 158 amber alerts issued in the entire US. Of those alerts, 144 resulted in a successful recovery. 28 of the recoveries were a direct result of the alert

  • Re:Phone alerts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crymeph0 ( 682581 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:29PM (#44312133)
    Have you heard one of those things go off? On my phone, it's an awful klaxon sound that seems psychologically designed to maximally distract you from whatever unimportant thing you were doing, like steering a 100-ton crane, and focus on the flood warning two counties over, which is clearly more important. These alerts are good in theory, but there's a real boy-who-cried-wolf problem with the current implementation.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wookact ( 2804191 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:31PM (#44312149)
    Protip: A city the size of New York, there is always a child missing.
  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:39PM (#44312209) Journal

    The same thing we did before the Amber alert system. The Police would do their jobs and put out an APB hit the streets and keep a lookout for a specific car. Alerting an entire city and "fear mongering" is apparently only a recent event.

  • by Maltheus ( 248271 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:48PM (#44312305)

    And this is precisely why I tune out amber alerts. I have no interest in getting involved in domestic disputes.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:54PM (#44312385) Homepage Journal

    So, 28 of the amber alerts resulted in successful recovery and something else was responsible for the other 116.

    Now, to determine the actual effectiveness, we have to figure out how many of those 28 would have been recovered by some other means had the alert not done it sooner.

    nevertheless, I believe OP wasn't aware that most of those signs and such were there anyway for other purposes and so don't really count towards the cost of the amber alert system.

  • Re:Not just NYC (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:55PM (#44312391) Homepage
    Everybody is saying "cry wolf" but it seems like more of a "chicken little" situation to me. In the old "boy who cried wolf" tale, the boy was actually lying, just to try to have some fun. Whereas chicken little was just blowing things a little out of proportion and getting the rest of the barnyard worked up over nothing.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeff Flanagan ( 2981883 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:02PM (#44312469)
    I see no reason not to set off an alert every 40 seconds on the phones of the asshats who think this alert was appropriate.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:36PM (#44312779)

    I see you like inventing numbers. Try these actual ones for a change: if each of those five million people finished just 1 minute less worth of work the next day because of their interrupted sleep, the collective loss would be equivalent to killing someone who still had 30 years left in the workforce. 2 minutes each and you're killing time that's equivalent to someone who has 60 years of work ahead of them. I.e. They're effectively sacrificing one lifespan in order to try and gain back another, except in this case they had little reason to expect it to work, since the alert came 12 hours after the child was kidnapped (i.e. enough time to have already driven to Chicago from New York). It was a bad trade.

    Or how about the fact that your best chance for success is in reaching the most people? Ideally they would have posted the alert before people were asleep, but since they were already 12 hours late and a good chunk of people don't start their day off by checking their phone for things that happened in the middle of the night, they may as well have waited another few hours so that they could reach more than just 10% of the city (to use your number). If 10% of the city is reachable at 4am, how many do you think are reachable at 7am? 50%? More? And that would also be at or shortly before people get on the road, which means it'd be a good time to ask people to be on the lookout for a car, since it would be fresh on their mind (not to mention that they wouldn't resent it for waking them up).

    Even more importantly, this entire system is predicated on the good will and volunteer participation of those involved. Every time they cry "Wolf!" like this they piss on that good will and give people a reason to change their mind. Once you lose those people, you won't be getting them back. How many thousands of people do you think turned off their alerts forever last night? One person's sleep may be a small sacrifice for a life, but taken collectively their choice to post that alert decreased the odds of the system working in the future with alerts that are actually decent.

    But hey, at least an Anonymous Coward on the Internet thinks it was a good idea, so I'm sure they're patting each other on the back.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.