WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation is making progress on a public emergency alert system that can broadcast Amber Alerts and other notifications across the expansive reservation, tribal officials said.
The tribe will be using the federal government’s internet-based Integrated Public Alert and Warning System , or IPAWS, and the only thing needed now is software that will allow the system to be fully functional across its lands in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
Officials expect the system to be active within weeks, and training on issuing Amber Alerts will begin for law enforcement this month.
“This system will not only provide alerts to those on the Navajo Nation through radios or televisions but through text messages as well,” Navajo President Russell Begaye said in a statement issued late Thursday.
The efforts are in response to a deadly abduction last year that raised concerns over the fact that the nation’s largest American Indian reservation did not have its own system to issue alerts about child abductions.
In May 2016, 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike was lured into a man’s van near her school bus stop and found dead the next day in a remote area near Shiprock, New Mexico, officials said. Tom Begaye Jr. of Waterflow, New Mexico, is facing federal charges in her death.
An Amber Alert wasn’t issued in New Mexico until around 2 a.m. the morning after Ashlynne’s disappearance, prompting a public outcry that residents weren’t notified that a child was in danger during the crucial hours of authorities’ search for her.
In most cases, state authorities coordinate with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to send word about abductions of children in danger of serious injury or death.
On the Navajo Nation, an Amber Alert system for the 27,000-square-mile reservation had been proposed years ago but was never implemented, despite the tribe having been awarded $330,000 in federal funding as part of a U.S. Justice Department pilot project. Half the money was used to buy equipment such as megaphones and pop-up tents, but the rest went unspent.
The tribe recently developed a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that cleared the way for the Navajo Nation to tap into the infrastructure of the federal alert system.
Officials say the tribal Department of Emergency Management will serve as the administrator for the Navajo Nation and will work with surrounding states to send out Amber alerts. Weather and other emergency alerts also will be sent out via the system.