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Amber Alerts head to cell phones

Nearly a dozen cell phone carriers will start to broadcast missing-children alerts to customers, starting Tuesday.

Nearly a dozen cell phone carriers will begin broadcasting Amber Alerts to their customers starting Tuesday, as the industry looks to cast a wide net in locating missing and kidnapped children.

Cingular Wireless, Nextel Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are among the nine cell phone carriers that will participate in the program, along with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and wireless industry group CTIA.

Under the program, cellular customers who can receive text messages on their phones will be able to opt-in to the free service. Customers, however, will have to register at either the Wireless Amber Alerts Web site, or through their cell phone company.

"Americans want to help fight crimes against children, and now that power rests in the palm of their hand," Steve Largent, CTIA's chief executive, said in a statement.

Amber Alerts were named for Amber Hagerman, a Texas girl who was kidnapped and murdered in the late 1990s.

The participating cell phone companies represent a total of 182 million wireless subscribers. Those customers will designate up to five geographic areas where they would like to receive Amber Alerts.

A number of offshoot efforts have developed since 1997, when the Amber Alerts program was launched as a way for broadcasters and the local police to work together to disseminate news about missing and abducted children.

America Online, for example, launched a program in 2002 to distribute the alerts to its members via the Internet. Amber Alerts are also displayed across the U.S. via electronic-sign billboards posted along highways.

More than 200 children have been successfully found as a direct result of the Amber Alerts, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.