Unnatural Disasters

We all are aware of natural disasters. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, etc. Things that are referred to as Acts of God that happen to us unexpectedly or maybe with some advance notice. We as a people today have early warning broadcasts or sirens that alert us to upcoming natural disaster events. Back in the early 1940’s, two tornados followed each other down the main street of the small town I was born in, Pryor, Oklahoma. They demolished the town and many lives were lost. Just within my lifetime, we have gone from just looking at the clouds to see if a storm was coming to having advanced radar systems and weatherpersons on television and radio telling us the hour and minute the damaging winds will be in our area. We are better prepared today to deal with these natural disasters because we are warned and have time to put our preparations into action so that we can deal with the disaster before, during, and after it hits us.

Do you have plans in place for a pending disaster? Are you ready to activate a command post to address a disaster when it hits?  I’m sure most of our law enforcement and departments of safety have plans in place in order to keep our communities and people safe form most natural disasters. But have you ever thought about planning for unnatural disasters?

Unnatural disasters such as child abductions, children who go missing and are endangered and exploited, crimes against children committed through the internet, and human trafficking - these are happening on a daily basis in this country, and more and more recently in Indian Country. These unnatural disasters are not Acts of God, but of people who are criminally bent and have no regard for the innocent victims. Unfortunately we do not have any sort of radar or scientific instrument to predict when and where these disasters will occur.  But we do know one thing. These unnatural disasters do happen and they seem to be happening more and more frequently. It is my belief that we can now prepare for these unexpected occurrences and be ready to deal with the disaster before, during, and after it happens.

For almost half a century I have devoted my life to working with and for Indian Country. Over the decades I have observed Indian Country go from not being included in most news sources, unheard of as a forgotten group of people, and simply trying to exist on their own without outside help or assistance - to now witnessing tribes which are increasingly recognized as a strong protector of and a strong voice for their people. This dramatic change has not been easy and still has its difficulties. Yet nevertheless, we Native Americans have an unheard of opportunity now to help each other and our tribal citizens.

Through public awareness and legal mandates we can now join with other law enforcement agencies to prepare ourselves for the unnatural disaster. We can have Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) and Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) with non-native entities that can and will assist us in meeting the challenges of today’s unnatural disasters.

I know many of us look at MOUs and MOAs as a written agreement that is similar to our past tribal and U.S. government treaties; written agreements or promises that were never kept. But this is not the case for today’s cooperative agreements between tribal, local, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies when dealing with the protection of children.

I mentioned in last month’s blog that in the not so distant past, police could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns, even stolen horses into the FBI's crime database – but not stolen children. Today, however, thanks to AMBER Alert in Indian Country and other specialized training and technical assistance offered by AMBER Alert and the National Criminal Justice Training Center, we have the opportunity to address and meet our tribal needs for high quality preparations in child safety.

Whether you are a law enforcement officer, teacher, social worker or serving in any other Child Safety and Advocacy role, I believe it is urgent that we keep public and child safety at the forefront. I urge all our native communities be prepared, have a plan in place, and then do all that we can to respond, thoughtfully and thoroughly, to the pending unnatural disasters that seem to be occurring more often than we would like. I urge everyone to obtain the appropriate training(s) and have your responses at the ready to address the unnatural disasters as well as the natural disasters.

My AMBER Alert in Indian Country colleagues and I look forward to sharing our experiences with you, and more importantly, learning from you and your community as we venture forward together. Please follow our blog, like us on Facebook and share with us your comments and thoughts on topics for future posts.

Do Na Da Go huh I (Doe Naw Daw Go Huh ee).


Ron Gurley M.S. Ed.


Protecting Our Children

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with tribes across this nation. Traveling from tribe to tribe and speaking with community members, tribal leaders and others, I am often asked what I see as the greatest threats that expose Native children to the risks of abduction and victimization. I always tell people that the greatest threat is waiting for someone else to do something. It’s not the internet, it’s not drugs, bad parents or understaffed police departments.

The greatest threat is when we as parents, community members or tribal leaders wait for someone else to act, for someone else to take the first step towards bringing the resources we need to the community, training community members and first responders and educating our children on how to protect themselves.

At one recent meeting someone asked me about “stranger danger” and what threat children in her tribe faced from predators. This question got me thinking about how we are often afraid to accept the fact that those who pose the greatest risk to our children, are often very close by. They are often part of our own community or circle of family, friends and acquaintances.

This conversation reminded me of a study conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the FBI where they looked at offenders who abducted children and sexual predators who molested children, although they didn’t abduct the child. In that study 66 percent of abducting child molesters and 80 percent of non-abducting child molesters were known to their victims. That means that in at least two thirds of the cases the perpetrator was known to the child, or his or her family!

We cannot rely on stereotypes or a false sense of security when it comes to the predators who would take our children from us. To effectively prevent, identify and apprehend predators, we must have a clear understanding of offender dynamics, their motivations and how they operate. Unlike many who lives in cities and urban areas, we don’t have the resources to rely solely on law enforcement it takes the entire community.

The lesson from this and other similar studies is that while we obviously need to teach our children to be cautious around people they do not know, we also have to talk to them about their personal safety around people they are acquainted with. We have to teach them to communicate with us, to never be afraid to tell us when something or someone feels wrong. To trust their instincts. Children should recognize that "strangers" often do not look strange, and parents should recognize that most abductions and assaults involve an offender and victim who know each other.

We may not like to think about the fact that the person who could take or harm our child is very likely to come from within our community, but we have to be alert to the dangers our children face, and to be prepared to protect them from victimization.

Have you asked yourself if your community is prepared to respond to the abduction of a child in the community?  Have you talked to tribal leaders, law enforcement and others about what types of policies, plans and resources are in place? Each of us has to be proactive and supportive of the tribe’s efforts to prevent, prepare for and respond to the abduction of our children.

Tribal leaders must understand and support the goals of improving the ability of the community to respond to and address these threats to the safety of the community’s children. Effective council resolutions, ordinances and tribal code/laws are essential. Our tribal leaders must be willing to seek out funding, resources and partnerships to improve our capabilities to protect children.

The resources are out there. A number of tribes have implemented very effective programs to protect children. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (the office that provides funding for this page) provides access to training, technical assistance and resources for tribes at no cost. We must realize, however, that all of those resources are worthless, if we do not seek them out and put them to use in our community.  

If you want to know more about what you can do, send a message through the ‘Contact Us’ button on this website,  and ask for assistance with determining what can be done in your community. Our AMBER Alert tribal liaisons will work with you to take that first step, so that you can lead the way in protecting our children.

Jim Walters, Program Administrator
AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program