Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Child Safe, Amber Alert System Dangerous

A commenter on yesterday's posted noted that the full story was available from, of all places, Fox News.

As it turns out, this was an Amber Alert. The person who was actually missing was a six year old boy named Rashaun Robinson. He was apparently picked up by the "ex-girlfriend of the boy's mother," a phrase which only now raised my eyebrows, even though I've read it about five times. I guess since gay marrige is now legal in DC that should hardly come as a shock, and it didn't. It's not that the boy was picked up by his mother's ex-girlfriend that surprises me. It's just that girls with girlfriends is a lot more DC than Suitland.

But moving on. I was thrilled to discover that I had kept the recording of last night's prime time comedy extravaganza. Or rather, Tivo had kept it in it's "recently deleted" folder. I pulled out every bit of video-hacking geekery that I could muster and figured out how to get that video from my Tivo to YouTube. Now, I'm sure to all you people who watch TV online and download new Hollywood movies before they've even left the "cutting room" (if that's what they still call a digital editing studio), this is no great feat. But to me, this required at least 20 minutes of googling, and downloading two piece of free software. As it turns out, I already had said software installed on my computer from years ago, but had forgotten all about it. Apparently, I have done this before and entirely erased it from my memory, much the same way I would erase a bad Saturday Night Live rerun from the Tivo.

Behold, the Emergency Broadcast System message, above. Though in many ways you heard all this yesterday, having the actual broadcast in front of us presents me with a new opportunity to point out all the ways in which it fails.

Top Five Ways DC's Amber Alert System Stinks

At least Battlezone, circa 1980, had color.
5. 1960's technology used to produce message will convince most people their TV set has switched into "service mode."

Seriously. Is this the best you can do? A black screen with white text that will make most people think of "Pong" on their Atari 2600? I'm more likely to believe that Comcast has been hijacked by rebels, than there's a serious message I should be paying attention to.

4. The useful information is only in the audio track.

I made fun of this alert yesterday because I thought it had no information at all. I could not be more wrong. Actually, it included a name and description of the abudcted child. But only in the audio. Which, of course, I had muted, since the the message began with a seizure-inducing noise that had led me to a single, inescapable conclusion. A pteradactly must have thawed from the glacier in which it had been frozen for 100,000 years, woken up, realized that it was the only pteradactly on Earth, let out a heart-rending scream that was heard for 500 miles, and then laid back down and died.

3. What does "effective until 21:40 mean?"

The only actual information offered by the video feed is that the child abduction emergency ends at a certain time. In this case, 9:40 PM. I am dying to know how they could have predicted that the child would be found, and within two hours!

Also of note: this is not an Amber Alert, it's a Child Abduction Emergency. I guess they haven't updated this text since about 1996, when that term came into common use.

2. The MPD release gave totally different information.

From yesterday's post you can see the email I got at almost exactly the same time I saw this on TV. It said nothing about a missing child. Actually, it said the the abductor was the missing person and made absolutely no mention that, in fact, we were really concerned about the child she had kidnaped. Awesome.

1. No pictures.

Apparently, the only outlet that was capable of providing the correct information about who was missing, and also providing a photograph of that person, was Fox News.

I am not a religious man. But seriously, if Fox News is now more reliable than MPD and the Amber Alert system, GOD HELP US ALL.


Mikaela said...

Obviously there need to be changes implemented to the system.

Anonymous said...

Pteradactly? Not exactly.

Unknown said...

This may be the most important factor in locating a missing child and send them home safely. Amber Alert GPS also has a tracking device in a manner that the parent voice can use to listen and determine exactly what is happening with their child at some point.

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