ADA — With January marking the 10th anniversary of the AMBER Alert nationally, Ada authorities report the utility of the plan locally.

On Friday, Sept. 23, 2005, Ada issued the first AMBER Alert of the city when 16-year-old murder victim Caitlin Wooten was abducted.

According to the Department of Justice, AMBER Alerts began in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children.

The AMBER Alert was created after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, of Arlington, Texas, was kidnapped Jan. 13, 1996, while riding her bicycle and brutally murdered. Although the alert shares it namesake with Hagerman, it is also an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.

Since its local implementation approximately five years ago, only one official AMBER Alert has been issued in Ada, according to Public Information Officer Mark Bratcher. On occasion, the city has used storm sirens to make announcements relating to missing children, but no other official AMBER Alerts have been issued, Bratcher said.

According to court records, on Sept. 23 at 3:26 p.m. Ada Police Department received the report of Wooten's abduction from her High School parking lot. At 4:28 p.m. an AMBER Alert was issued.

Once broadcast, AMBER Alerts interrupt regular radio and television programming and are posted on highway signs, according to the D.O.J.

The D.O.J established specific criteria for the issuance of an AMBER Alert to alleviate abuse of the system and ultimately weaken its effectiveness.

When necessary, Bratcher said the city follows the guidelines used statewide. In Ada, an AMBER Alert is "issued when a child 15 years of age or younger, or an individual under proven mental or physical disability, is abducted and there is reason to believe the victim is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. Also, it can be used when there is information available to disseminate to the general public that would assist in the safe recovery of the victim and or the apprehension of the suspect," Bratcher said.

Because she was already 16 years old, an exception was made regarding age guidelines in Wooten's case, Assistant Chief of Police Major Carl Allen said. 

"Response time to the Caitlin Wooten AMBER Alert was very good," Bratcher said. "The SWAT team in particular mobilized very quickly." From the time dispatchers received the abduction call to the time the AMBER alert went out only 62 minutes had passed.

During the AMBER Alert, a command center was located in the basement of City Hall. Bratcher said "The purpose is to have one central location to receive incoming information, decide what to do with it, and more effectively manage the situation." According to Bratcher, two additional dispatchers were added to staff and incoming calls were transferred to non-emergency office numbers to help take additional information. Dispatchers answered all calls and when necessary transferred the information to officers through the normal process of radio, cell phone, or land-based phone, Bratcher said.

In addition to the Ada Police Department, other agencies including the FBI, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Pontotoc County Sheriff's Office, Chickasaw Nation Lighthorse Police, and OSBI were involved in the search effort.

The DOJ reports all 50 states now have AMBER Alert plans which can cross state and jurisdictional lines.

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