On Friday, Utah's Rachael Alert — the notification system that alerts the public when a child has been abducted — became known as the AMBER Alert.

The change comes following the passage of the national AMBER alert system by the full U.S. Congress on Thursday. Utah's Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Utah's alert system should carry the same name as the national system.

"We can't have any confusion when we are trying to save an abducted child," Shurtleff said through a prepared statement. "The public, law enforcement officers and broadcasters need to be crystal clear about what needs to be done when an AMBER Alert goes out."

The decision is supported by Utah sheriffs and police chiefs, attorney general spokesman Paul Murphy said.

It also has the approval of Elaine Runyan-Simmons. Utah's alert system was named in honor of her daughter Rachael, who was abducted and murdered in 1982. Utah adopted the Rachael Alert last May — one month before the abduction of Elizabeth Smart. Following the Smart abduction, 41 states adopted alert laws, Runyan-Simmons said.

"I wish it could be Rachael's name, it really was her alert that got so big and brought so much attention to the issue," Runyan-Simmons said. "But (the change) makes it simple. It's about saving children, that's all. . . . I'm OK with it. The alert itself is bigger than the name."

But Runyan-Simmon's 3-year-old daughter won't be forgotten. In her memory, the Attorney General's Office will establish the Rachael Runyan Award for citizens who assist in the recovery of a child by contacting law enforcement when an alert has been issued. Runyan-Simmons will be asked to participate in ceremonies when the award is given, Murphy said.

"I suspect that's going to be a very emotional issue for me," Runyan-Simmons said. "I'm proud that I can be a part of it. It's a way to honor her and remember her and to say that we've gone on to try and protect other children."

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Once issued, an alert distributes information about the child abduction across a variety of networks. Those include the use of the Emergency Alert System on television and radio, postings on electronic highway and business signs, announcements on the highway travel advisory radio system, notification of officers at all ports of entry, distribution of fliers by the Bureau of Criminal Identification, and notification of law enforcement officers by regional police and fire dispatchers. The Utah Trucking Association also contacts all of their members, and information is available on the Web through the Commuterlink driver information network and from America Online, which e-mails all of its customers.

Utah's alert system has been in place about a year and was the ninth such system in the United States. Alerts have been issued just twice — once following the abduction of Smart last June and again in January when 3-month-old Nicholas Tripplett was taken from a downtown mall. Salt Lake police recovered him within five hours of issuing an alert.

The national AMBER Alert will be named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl Texas girl who was abducted and found murdered. After being stalled by amendments in the House of Representatives for several months, Congress fast-tracked the AMBER Alert bill last month following the recovery of Smart in Sandy.


E-mail: jdobner@desnews.com

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