Tennessee Missing Alerts & Criteria

As the state’s lead law enforcement agency, the TBI shares information among law enforcement agencies about missing individuals, offers investigative support, and issues alerts to raise the public awareness of the most serious of cases.

Alert Types

Each state has different criteria for alerts for missing individuals. The TBI formed Tennessee’s program based on national best practices and to provide consistency and flexibility to respond in the most appropriate way depending on the circumstances of each case.

The TBI reserves AMBER Alerts for the most serious of missing children cases, in which law enforcement believes that a child is in imminent danger. In AMBER Alerts, the TBI harnesses the strengths of partner agencies – including TEMA, the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, the National Weather Service, TDOT, and others – to amplify the message of vital information about the missing child and, if available, the suspect, vehicle, and direction of travel.

The TBI is the missing children’s clearinghouse for the state, and  is the only agency in the state that can issue an AMBER Alert.

In order to issue an AMBER Alert, the following criteria must be met:
1. The person is 17 years of age or younger, and;
2. The child is in imminent danger of bodily injury or death, and;
3. There is a description of the child, the abductor, or vehicle, and;
4. On a request from another state for activation, there is a direct and identified nexus to the state of Tennessee and that information is conveyed to TBI at the time of the request.

Issuing an AMBER Alert is not as simple as pressing a single button at TBI Headquarters. Instead, it’s a complex process, requiring various layers of notification across Tennessee. The TBI places priority on notifying the media, the National Weather Service, TDOT, and TBI’s social media audience, in an effort to quickly share information with the public at large. The TBI also works with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to activate the cellular telephone network, billboards, and other secondary alert notifications.

FAQs

• Where and why did AMBER Alert first start?

The AMBER Alert System began in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and brutally murdered. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER plans as the idea was adopted across the state.

• Why are AMBER Alerts not issued for all missing children?

AMBER Alerts are issued for abducted children in the most serious cases that meet the specific AMBER Alert criteria. Tennessee averages 500 to 600 missing children a month, many due to parental abductions or runaways. Our state averages eight (8) to nine (9) AMBER Alerts a year. Overuse of AMBER Alerts could result in the public becoming desensitized to Alerts when they are issued.

An AMBER Alert is only one tool that law enforcement can use to find abducted children. Tennessee also utilizes the Endanger Child Alert (ECA) and Missing Children List for missing children 17 years of age and younger.

• What specific criteria must be met for an AMBER Alert to be issued?
1. The person is 17 years of age or younger, and;
2. The child is in imminent danger of bodily injury or death, and;
3. There is a description of the child, the abductor, or vehicle, and;
4. On a request from another state for activation, there is a direct and identified nexus to the state of Tennessee and that information is conveyed to TBI at the time of the request.

• Does every state have the same AMBER Alert criteria?
No. Though every state has an AMBER Alert System with some of the same criteria there can be differences, which can result in the same case prompting an AMBER Alert in one state but not in another.

• Why does my phone go off when an AMBER Alert is issued?
TBI works with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to activate the cellular telephone network to allow for quick and accurate information to be delivered directly to cellphone users.

• Why does my phone go off for an AMBER Alert in another part of the state?
All Tennessee AMBER Alerts are issued statewide. Why? It can sometimes take hours between the time a child is abducted, and the criteria is confirmed for an AMBER Alert to be issued, which could give an abductor time to travel hundreds of miles within our state.

• What happens behind the scenes once an AMBER Alert is issued?
Our team of special agents and analysts based in the Tennessee Fusion Center at TBI Headquarters in Nashville, as well as our team in the field where the child is reported missing, work around the clock on developing leads, following leads, and sharing information with law enforcement partners in state and often out of state. We are unable to talk publicly about most of what we are doing to preserve the integrity of the investigation. The 24-hour operation continues for as long as needed, based on the information we are receiving.

• How many children are reported missing in Tennessee?
Tennessee averages 500 to 600 missing children a month, many due to parental abductions or runaways. However, our state averages eight to nine AMBER Alerts a year.

• What can I do as a parent or caregiver to help law enforcement should the worst happen, and my child is abducted?
Having accurate information is key in allowing law enforcement to begin investigating and potentially issue a statewide Endangered Child Alert or AMBER Alert. Click here for the TBI’s Kid Kit.

The TBI reserves this type of alert for missing children cases in which there is a concern for the child’s safety.

In issuing an Endangered Child Alert, the TBI notifies local media – in specific regions of the state – about the missing child, along with any additional available information. The TBI also uses social media to further share the relevant information.

The TBI reserves this type of alert for missing adults, ages 18-20, in which there is a concern for the individual's safety.

In issuing an Endangered Young Adult Alert, the TBI notifies local media – in specific regions of the state – about the missing child, along with any additional available information. The TBI also uses social media to further share the relevant information.

The TBI reserves this type of alert for missing adults, ages 21-59, in which there is a concern for the individual's safety.

In issuing an Endangered Adult Alert, the TBI notifies local media – in specific regions of the state – about the missing child, along with any additional available information. The TBI also uses social media to further share the relevant information.

At the request of a local law enforcement agency, the TBI will include information about missing children who may be missing as a result of parental abduction, runaway, or otherwise “at-risk” on its website.

Please note, however, the TBI's website list does not represent all missing children in Tennessee, just cases in which the Bureau receives a request from a parent, guardian, or local law enforcement, and those in which the case may benefit from additional publicity.