Elderly people often have conditions or are taking medications that affect their judgment and their memory. When these people go missing, many law enforcement agencies issue a “Silver Alert,” a statewide or regional broadcast to the public to be on the lookout for the missing senior.
Silver Alerts are broadcast on a variety of media:
- radio, TV, and cable TV stations;
- variable-message signs on public roadways; and
- Reverse 911, by which alerts are issued to telephone subscribers in specific areas.
From AMBER to Silver
The Silver Alert was inspired by the AMBER alert system for missing children. AMBER is a “backronym” for America’s Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response. It was originally named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was abducted and killed in 1998 in Arlington, Texas.
An Oklahoma state representative announced in December 2005 that he would bring up the idea of an AMBER Alert for missing seniors, which he referred to as a Silver Alert. In March 2006, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed H.R. 1075, calling for a Silver Alert system. Subsequently, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety began to include Silver Alerts in the alerts sent to state law enforcement agencies. Other states soon took up the gauntlet.
The Silver Alert System Catches On
As of January 2013, according to Wikipedia, New York City and 29 states have the Silver Alert or a similar program for locating missing elderly people.
- Twenty states call their program “Silver Alert.”
- Eight states, including Kentucky, have programs that contain criteria similar to those of Silver Alert programs, but they have a different name.
- Ten states have missing persons alert systems that include either all missing persons or a broader category of missing persons.
- Six states have Silver Alert legislation pending.
Kentucky’s Golden Alert System
In 2008, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed into law Senate Bill 125, which established the Golden Alert system. The program, administered by the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management (KYEM), applies to adults 18 years and older who have a verified mental or cognitive impairment.
Although Kentucky does not have a coordinated system for working with other states, KYEM does issue a statewide alert if an individual from another state is likely to have come to Kentucky.
The Safe Return Program
Another program that assists in locating missing people who have Alzheimer’s or other dementia is Safe Return. A federally funded program administered by the Alzheimer’s Association, Safe Return maintains a database of people who have been identified as at risk for wandering or elopement because of their condition. Individuals must enroll in this program.
Once enrolled, Safe Return issues the individual a MedicAlert bracelet or other ID that identifies the person as memory impaired and has a 24-hour, toll-free phone number to call if the person is found wandering. Safe Return also provides information about the person and a physical description to aid law enforcement agencies in identifying, locating, and returning the individual.
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