One of our more popular questions from NOAA Weather Radio listeners involves the broadcast of AMBER Alerts, specifically alerts that come out during the night.
Over the years, NOAA Weather Radio has evolved into an "all-hazards" system. Besides the routine and emergency weather broadcasts, it can be used to notify the public for non-weather hazards such as toxic spills, evacuation notices, 911 outages, and more. Requests for such broadcasts are made by the Illinois State Police, Illinois Emergency Management Agency, or county emergency management officials. One of these non-weather hazards is the Child Abduction Emergency, also known as an AMBER Alert.
Because NOAA Weather Radio is one of the primary input sources for the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the Illinois State Police approached the National Weather Service several years ago, in order to use the weather radio to relay AMBER Alerts. While it was not intended for the weather radio listeners to get involved in the search, EAS messages originating from the weather radio (including things such as tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings) are fanned out on EAS to radio and TV stations, which can then automatically broadcast the information.
Since the NWS in Illinois began broadcasting AMBER Alerts in summer 2003, there have been approximately 60 alerts. Of those, less than a dozen have occurred between midnight and 6 AM. Approximately 40% of the recoveries after issuance of an AMBER Alert were due to the message being broadcast over the EAS (and originating from NOAA Weather Radio). While many of these alerts are broadcast statewide, they can sometimes be tailored to a specific area, as determined by the State Police.
However, it is understood that listeners of weather radio may not want to be woken up at night for this type of message. Several weather radio manufacturers sell receivers in which specific alert types can be disabled. Further information is available at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/nwrrcvr.htm . This is similar to the concept of being able to program them for specific counties. Listeners using older model programmable radios (manufactured prior to 2004), as well as newer receivers that do not allow you to de-program specific event types, will be more affected by this issue. Listeners with older non-programmable radios are not affected, since the 1050 Hz tone used to activate these receivers is not used for AMBER Alerts.