Amber Alert on phone sent to Californians for first time

By GABRIELLE LEVY,  |  Aug. 6, 2013 at 5:21 PM
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Cell phones across Southern California blared out an alert overnight Monday, notifying them of two missing children believed to have been abducted by their mother's alleged killer.

The statewide Amber Alert was the first pushed out to California cell phones, and it surprised, awakened and irritated people with a 10-second high-pitched spurt of beeping and buzzing.

While the circumstances are deadly serious -- James Lee DiMaggio is suspected of killing Christina Anderson, 44, near San Diego and kidnapping her two children, Hannah, 16 and Ethan, 8 -- the message only included details about DiMaggio's blue Nissan and his California license plate.

People on social media described being scared and unsettled when the abrasive, unexpected alert was pushed to their phones.

Customers can contact their wireless provider to opt out of the program or change phone settings but Amber Alerts pushed to phones have seen quick results.

Many New Yorkers were irritated to be awoken by a 4 a.m. alert last month, when a 7-month-old boy was snatched by his bipolar mother, who was deemed a threat to his well-being, from a social service facility. The child was located within a few hours, thanks to a tip from someone who received the alert.

Cell service providers are not required to carry the Wireless Emergency Alert program, but all the major ones do. The alerts are sent based on proximity to the emergency, not the phone number's location, and are transmitted to all phones within range of cell towers in the alert areas.

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