Questions remain about cell phone alerts following Amber Alert in Fort Worth

Even though Fort Worth Police Department officials claim they followed protocol, information about an 8-year-old's kidnapping never made it to most cell phones in North Texas in the critical hours after an Amber Alert was issued over the weekend.

The Amber Alert made it to some, but not all usual channels.

This is a multi-layered system conceived nearly 25 years ago. Since then, technology has evolved and these alerts are not something police activate every day, so issues can come up.

A doorbell camera captured a mother's horror seconds after her 8-year-old daughter was snatched from her side Saturday evening.

Police say 51-year-old Michael Webb kidnapped the girl, triggering a race against time to find her unharmed.

“Whether or not to activate the Amber Plan is specifically left at the discretion of each and every law enforcement entity,” said Mike Simonds, a deputy chief for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office and the director for the regional Amber Alert plan.

Fort Worth police say that at 9:14 p.m. on Saturday, their office began the process of initiating an Amber Alert by notifying the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the Texas Department of Public Safety by email.

NCMEC says it activated highway signs in the region. The agency also posted alerts on social media.

But the state did not activate cell phone alerts, and by the time NCMEC officials found out, it was after 11 p.m.

An NCMEC guideline recommends not issuing cell phone alerts between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., while people are sleeping.

An NCMEC spokesperson says if people are repeatedly bothered by middle of the night alerts, they'll shut off the alert function altogether, crippling the system.

Fort Worth police officials also say they followed procedure by faxing local radio stations, which would then activate broadcasts of the regional Amber Alert plan.

“You are attempting to locate and get information to people who are out in their vehicles, in the community, driving around, who might be able to witness something and identify the suspect or the victim,” Simonds said.

But in this case, police say their fax machine didn't work that night. They apologized for that, but left it unclear if there was any follow-up communication by phone or email.

Fortunately, the girl was found within hours of her abduction, but when every second counts, there's little room for error.

“It does present an opportunity for additional training and for updating policies and procedures, and to take a look at the overall plan,” Simonds said. “Make sure there's nothing we might want to adjust to become more effective or efficient.”

We reached out to the state for more clarification about its role in the process, but have not yet gotten a response.

A relative of the abducted girl’s family also expressed disappointment that the alert system didn't work better in this case, but emphasized the family is truly grateful to law enforcement.

He says he hopes they can improve the system to help the next child that goes missing.