Law enforcement and the media worked together to establish the activation criteria. The criteria were established so that the plan would only be used in appropriate cases. The media and the public must understand the time constraints law enforcement encounter when a child is reported missing. Therefore, for the plan to be activated, the following strict criteria must be met:
- An abducted child must be under 18 years of age.
- The abduction poses a credible threat of immediate danger of serious bodily harm or death to a child.
- A law enforcement agency determines that the child is not a runaway and has not been abducted as a result of a child custody dispute, unless the dispute poses a credible threat of immediate danger of serious bodily harm or death to the child.
- There is sufficient descriptive information about the child, the abductor, and the circumstances surrounding the abduction to indicate that activation of the alert will help locate the child.
The plan is limited to "abducted" children, and, therefore, excludes children believed to be runaways or throwaways from home.