AMBER Alert system on pause after empty message in middle of night

Apr 19, 2020, 5:41 PM

AMBER Alert...

Samples of the AMBER Alert sent out April 19 that mistakenly had no additional information included in the notification. For some Utahns several notifications were sent out as well, adding to the confusion surrounding the system. The Utah Department of Public Safety said it will pause these alerts until a thorough investigation is completed. (Cami Mondeaux, KSL NewsRadio)

(Cami Mondeaux, KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Utah Department of Public Safety paused its AMBER Alert system for now, after some Utahns woke up to a 3:33 a.m. alert with no additional information attached.

The South Salt Lake Police Department issued the alert early Sunday morning through its local dispatch center, asking for public help in a missing child abduction case. Authorities canceled the alert at 6:08 a.m. after finding the child safe.

However, the original alert had no information attached — it just included a message header.

How Wireless Emergency Alerts work

“Because we can’t test WEAs [Wireless Emergency Alerts] in a demonstration mode, we didn’t see this issue until now,” said Joe Dougherty, of the Utah Division of Emergency Management. “The code for these alerts has been updated to ensure both the header and the message are sent in the future.”

The Utah DPS announced later that afternoon they would pause AMBER Alerts sent through the Wireless Emergency Alert system until it can thoroughly investigate what went wrong and how to fix it. Until then, the department will continue sending alerts to the police, news outlets, social media and its website. 

The authority to send AMBER Alerts rests within the jurisdiction of local law enforcement to quickly notify the community. The state government owns the software.

AMBER Alert system on pause

Typically, these statewide messages come through the WEA system — the same system used for Gov. Gary Herbert’s travel self-declaration form system, introduced April 9.

That system was turned off Monday after glitches sent repeated messages to residents who remained inside their homes — yet were alerted they had crossed state lines.

This isn’t the first time Utahns received an AMBER Alert with no helpful information. Similar situations occurred in September and November of last year.

While the department said it continues to investigate past issues, Sunday’s alert represented the first they’ve sent since those initial mistakes.

Looking ahead

Dougherty said the department recognizes the different aspects that went wrong with this particular message, noting they’re working on addressing those. This includes the middle-of-the-night disturbance and some Utahns receiving several notifications of the same message.

“Some phones received the alert multiple times,” he said. “This is something that happens with these types of alerts and we have no control over it.”

Until those mistakes can be fixed, Dougherty said the WEA system for AMBER alerts will be paused until they can conduct a complete review of the system and its history in Utah.

Despite the kinks, Dougherty said the system succeeded in other areas — like its updates on its website and Twitter feed — keeping the community informed on the developments of the alert. Those methods will remain in order despite the WEA system being put on pause.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

James Kimose, Farr West, celebrates his 101st birthday in Ogden on Sunday. Kimose is a WWII marine ...

Gabrielle Shiozawa,

Utahn — perhaps the last Air Force Iwo Jima veteran — turns 101 on Memorial Day

Jim Kimose, who served in the United States Air Force during World War II, celebrates turning 101 on Memorial Day.

10 hours ago

Electric vehicles are close to a tipping point, making up more than 10% of all cars sold globally l...

Emma Keddington, KSL NewsRadio

UDOT grant to boost the availability of EV charging stations

Whitesides says he expects to see an expansion of 20 charging locations along the Wasatch Front and in rural areas in Moab.

10 hours ago

Biden and McCarthy's political futures could hinge on their ability to pass the legislation while a...

Kevin Liptak, CNN

Biden and McCarthy lean on holdouts to pass debt ceiling deal

Speaking from the White House on Sunday, Biden hailed the agreement as critical to preventing economic disaster.

10 hours ago

Kim Beck, owner of Top Dog Snake Finders, geared up and looking for rattlesnakes. (KSL TV)...


Rattlesnakes are appearing on Utah trails, around homes later than normal

There has been an uptick in reports of rattlesnakes on trails and around homes. They are coming out later than usual due to wet weather.

10 hours ago

The aftermath of the small plane crash in Washington County. (Enterprise Fire and EMS)...


Pilot crashes small plane in southern Utah after buying it from Nevada, officials say

The pilot of a small plane walked away after crashing in Washington County over the weekend. Officials are investigating the cause.

10 hours ago

Venice canal turns fluorescent green...

Barbie Latza Nadeau and Sophie Tanno, CNN

Venice authorities investigate after canal turns fluorescent green

Venetian authorities are investigating after a patch of fluorescent green water appeared in the famed Grand Canal on Sunday morning.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Group of cheerful team members high fiving each other...

Visit Bear Lake

How To Plan a Business Retreat in Bear Lake This Spring

Are you wondering how to plan a business retreat this spring? Read our sample itinerary to plan a team getaway to Bear Lake.

Cheerful young woman writing an assignment while sitting at desk between two classmates during clas...

BYU EMBA at the Marriott School of Business

Hear it Firsthand: 6 Students Share Their Executive MBA Experience at BYU’s Marriott School of Business

The Executive MBA program at BYU offers great opportunities. Hear experiences straight from students enrolled in the program.

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and gates.

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...

Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer.

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy.

AMBER Alert system on pause after empty message in middle of night