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Business Process Analysis: Missing Children Clearinghouse Amber Alert Program

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Missing Children Clearinghouse Amber Alert Program


The Indiana Amber Alert Program operated by the Indiana State Police notifies the public about recently abducted children in Indiana using the national Emergency Alert System (EAS). Interested parties to the program have expressed concern about the length of time between the declaration of an Amber Alert and the publication of the Alert on the EAS. Some measurable improvement is possible by reordering some of the steps in the execution of an Amber Alert, and by using more automated means to communicate information internally between actors in the program. However, the program overall is effective in accomplishing its stated objectives.


The Indiana Amber Alert Program was established by the Indiana State Legislature in 2002, as part of the Indiana Missing Children Clearinghouse at the Indiana State Police. The purpose of an Amber Alert is to create a high level of public awareness whenever a child is abducted or missing under circumstances potentially dangerous to the child. The program uses radio, television, dynamic highway signs and even cellular telephone text messaging to inform the public about the circumstances surrounding the missing child’s disappearance.

When a child is reported missing under qualifying circumstances to a local law enforcement agency, referred to as the “Lead Agency”, the principal investigator for that agency calls the Enforcement Operations (“Ops”) desk at Indiana State Police headquarters and requests the issuance of an Amber Alert, relating the circumstances of the disappearance to the Operations Officer. Ops faxes an information sheet to the Lead Agency requesting specific descriptive details regarding the victim, the suspect(s), vehicles that may be involved, and any other information that may assist in identifying and recovering the missing child unharmed. While the Lead Agency prepares the information sheet, Ops contacts senior ISP commanders for a decision whether to initiate the Amber Alert process. If the Amber Alert is declared, several ISP staff are called in to carry out the various preparation and notification tasks, including an oral broadcast recording, postings at various data sources, and statewide notification to all law enforcement agencies. With the variety of points of dissemination, and an equal variety of publication formats, a great deal of coordination is required to ensure all tasks are performed in the most time-effective manner and sequence. With a child abduction or endangerment situation, the first two to three hours are the most critical


The current Amber Alert process is generally capable and effective for accomplishing the designated objectives. However, several members of the Amber Alert community have expressed concern over the length of time required to complete the process after the initial request from the Lead Agency. Some of the delay is systemic variance attributable to the inherent difficulty of obtaining complete and accurate information in an emotional and often confusing set of circumstances. However, by rebalancing the current process flow, precious minutes could be saved, possibly making a crucial difference in the outcome.

The current process is documented in a flow chart prepared by ISP staff. Due to limited opportunity to interview staff during regular working hours, the flowchart serves as the principal source of information for analysis, supplemented by anecdotal knowledge where significant. Additionally, certain assumptions regarding systemic lag times have been made, particularly where a delay occurs waiting on an outside event or person. Examples of such systemic lags include the delay between faxing the information sheet to the Lead Agency and receiving the completed sheet back from the Lead Agency, or the delay between contacting an individual who is currently offsite and the commencement of that individual’s first task. While such assumptions are generally arbitrary, the value chosen does not affect the analysis because whatever the actual time, it is a variable that cannot be controlled within the process.

The current process is followed more or less as laid out in the flow chart, with tasks overlapping only when separate individuals can perform tasks simultaneously. From the time of initial request by the Lead Agency, one hour and 52 minutes, or 112 minutes elapse until the last notification-related activity is completed. Much of this is due to the positioning of important tasks after more administratively natured tasks. Additionally, early in the process contact is

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