When Russ Thornton’s 3-year-old son went missing at an amusement park, he panicked.
The boy was found alive after a 45-minute search, and the experience inspired Thornton to found Amber Alert GPS in 2007, which provides mobile tracking technology to help find missing children. Now his South Jordan-based company is supplying the Utah AMBER Alert system with a much-needed speed upgrade, in response to a slow-down resulting from its popularity.
The state will now use the company’s Law Enforcement Alerting Portal (LEAP), a system that can send alerts more quickly to the public through texts, e-mails, faxes and RSS feeds than the system the state had been using since adopting the Amber Alert system in 2002.
Amber Alert GPS sales subsidize LEAP and Thornton is providing the system to the state for free. Eight other states are also using LEAP.
Utah’s previous system slowed down as more people signed up. When the state tested the Amber Alert Program on Aug. 26, two computer servers went down, severely delaying the system. The state tested LEAP at the same time and it quickly disseminated the alerts.
“When it comes to finding kids, we all have a need for speed,” said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
The dispatchers at the Department of Public Safety Communications Center in Salt Lake City also agreed to enter alert information into LEAP, taking over the responsibility of the public alerts from the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification.
“Dispatchers are stretched to the limit every day,” said Lance Davenport, commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety. But he added that he knows “they are willing to do whatever they can to bring a child home.”
Elaine Runyun-Simmons’ daughter Rachael was abducted by a stranger and murdered 30 years ago. The Utah predecessor to the Amber Alert was named after Rachael, and Runyun-Simmons is pleased that the system is speeding up to protect other children.
“It’s just been awesome. You feel like you’re fighting back a little,” she said.
Not everyone is upgrading to LEAP, though. The Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification will continue using the old system as the primary provider of Amber Alerts to law enforcement, broadcasters and Amber Alert partners.
People are encouraged to sign up for the alerts by going to amberalert.com. To date, 17 abducted children have been recovered directly from Utah Amber Alerts, according to a news release from the Utah Attorney General’s Office.