State officials have enlisted the Vermont Lottery to aid the Amber Alert system, which Rep. Patricia O'Donnell, R-Vernon, initiated in the Legislature.
The system will send messages about abducted children through state lottery machines. Those messages will appear on all lottery terminals and then be printed on a customer's lottery ticket, with a message similar to a classified ad, Gov. James Douglas said.
Amber Alerts send an emergency announcement to the public in the dvent of a child abduction where the child's life may be in danger. State officials hope the new plan will give the emergencies a wider audience -- and therefore a greater chance of finding the abducted child as soon as possible.
"We, of course, hope we'll never need to use it, but we're glad to have this additional resource available," Douglas said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
He said Amber Alert is important because most children who are killed by their abductors are slain in the first three hours. Those few hours, he said, can make all the difference.
"Time is of the essence in these situations," he said.
Vermont has roughly 275 lottery sales agents, according to Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs. As many as 150 of them are expected to go online within the next year.
Though O'Donnell initiated the Amber Alert bill in the Vermont House of Representatives, she said it was the state lottery commissioner's idea to add the new measure. In the House, she said, the bill was met with little or no opposition.
There were a lot of logistics to figure out, she said, so the state wouldn't cause chaos throughout the lottery system. Douglas said it took time going through details with the computer company that handles the lottery terminals.
O'Donnell said she did not know of any challengers to the bill. She said it was the easiest bill she's ever dealt with and one of the ones she's proudest of.
"When you come up with a bill like that, there's no reason for legislators not to support it," she said.
She said she became interested in Amber Alert when a child was rescued in Putney after an alert was sent out from nearby Greenfield, Mass. Also in Illinois, an Amber Alert helped save abducted girls from someone who had already killed before.
There were some concerns at first about Vermont suddenly having blinking signs, alerting commuters of abducted children, Douglas said. The state later worked through alternatives, which included the lottery.
Douglas said the state may also consider a plan that would send messages to scrolling highway signs -- the kind that are used to warn drivers of construction ahead. This kind of alert would just provide basic details to the driver, since not many characters can fit on such a sign.
"There's a limit to the information," Douglas said.
Douglas signed the Amber Alert legislation in May 2003, formally initiating the communication between law enforcement and broadcasters. The plan involved radio and television stations interrupting programming to broadcast information about a missing child.
Amber Alerts have reportedly saved 150 children from their abductors nationwide since 1996.