Instead of showing critical missing children bulletins, the federal Amber Alert website on Sunday displayed a sparse, white screen with a simple message informing viewers that the government shutdown forced the website to go down. The site was restored to its usual status by mid-day Monday.
“Due to the lapse in federal funding, this Office of Justice Programs (OJP) website is unavailable,” the message had read, just below a U.S. Department of Justice seal.
The website normally displays urgent alerts from across the nation about the most at-risk missing children, helping to connect citizens and law enforcement across all participating jurisdictions.
However, the Justice Department said it didn’t affect its Amber Alert System. Amy Smith, executive director of Let’s Bring Them Home, said because of the partial government shutdown that has occupied Washington, D.C., over the last week, the website’s IT department was furloughed.
“They suspended the website so that no one could possibly hack it, but the system itself was never down,” Smith said.
Let’s Bring Them Home is a national organization founded in Northwest Arkansas. Smith explains who’s in charge of the alert system.
“The actual alert comes from the different law enforcement agencies across the United States, and then the national ones come from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” Smith said.
Smith said Amber Alerts aren’t common in Northwest Arkansas. However, she said, they serve as a valuable resource.
“The Amber Alert is very important. That’s something that could be between life and death of a child who is abducted,” Smith said.
The organization Let’s Bring Them home uses press releases and social media to help find missing people.
When law enforcement agencies want to issue an Amber Alert, they send a request through the Arkansas State Police because that agency oversees the Amber Alert system in Arkansas.