Amber Alert simulation exercise gives cops chance to test system

Sean C. Morgan

Police were notified Friday morning about a stolen vehicle as they were also receiving a call about an abduction from School District 55.

But the calls weren’t real. It was a drill.

Sweet Home Police Department officers were out and about in front of Sweet Home High School on an Amber Alert simulation coordinated with the School District and Oregon State Police after Sweet Home Police Sgt. Jeff Lynn called the report in to the State Police to activate the Amber Alert system.

For the next two hours, simulated tips rolled in, “testing both our ability to see how well we could handle it and how we need to improve should the real event occur,” said Police Chief Bob Burford, while the State Police were training new personnel.

The incident ended with a “crash” near the Thistle Creek boat ramp.

The department received the scenario on Thursday. Police supervisors told local personnel they need to brush up on the policy for the Amber Alert system, Lynn said. About 10 minutes before the scenario started, personnel were made aware of the simulation.

“Ten members of our department were involved in it,” Lynn said. “I thought it worked well. The whole point of it was to figure out where our needs are at and beyond that, pulling our ops center together.

“We actually fine-tuned some of the systems we have. We found we needed more land lines (telephone) in the ops center.”

The department had planned to use cell phones in the operations center, Burford said, but agencies were calling the department’s business lines.

Phones were only one issue personnel discussed during a debriefing Friday morning. They also discussed a need for an additional networked laptop, for example, and developed plans to consolidate supplies for the ops center.

The Sweet Home Police Department has never activated the Amber Alert system, Burford said. It is activated only when certain criteria are met.

The Amber Alert Plan is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement agencies and broadcasters to disseminate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child abduction cases. They use the Emergency Alert System, formerly called the Emergency Broadcast System, to air a description of missing children and suspected abductors, as is done during severe weather emergencies.

To activate the system, the mischild must be 17 or younger and in danger of serious bodily harm or death, with enough descriptive information about the child, abductor and suspect’s vehicle to believe an immediate broadcast alert will help. The child’s name and other critical data are entered into the National Crime Information Center system.

A kidnapping victim from the Mt. Angel area was rescued on a logging road near Camp Tadmor in 2004 following an Amber Alert. The abductor, Jeffrey Eggiman, 38, was fatally shot and killed by two Linn County deputies after Eggiman pointed a pistol at them.