State considers Silver Alert Response System

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BOSTON, July 29 —

The General Court recently reviewed a bill entitled “An Act to Create A Silver Alert Community Response System.”

The legislation would amend Chapter 6A of the General Laws to create a new silver alert community response system, which would be used to alert public safety departments and private safety departments, when an adult with serious memory impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia is reported to a police department as a missing person.

The Silver Alert system would be set up by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, and regulations for the program would be drafted in conjunction with the Department of State Police, in consultation with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

Under the measure, all ‘first responders,’ like police and fire department personnel, and EMS first responders, plus 911 operators, would be trained on the Silver Alert system and protocols. The training would include information about drivers whose memory impairments may put them at high risk for accidents or becoming lost while driving. The bill asks Public Safety to consider coordinating the Silver Alert system with the national Medic Alert + Safe Return Program.

The Massachusetts legislation is modeled on similar laws in other states. On October 9. 2008 Governor Charlie Crist of Florida signed Executive Order 08-211 enacting Florida’s ‘Silver Alert,’ which allows the immediate broadcast of information to the public regarding missing elders with dementia or other cognitive impairment. The Executive Order provides a coordinated response between local and state law enforcement to quickly broadcast important information to citizens so they can assist local law enforcement in the rescue of the endangered person and notify law enforcement with helpful information.

The Florida program was created in response to the death of 86-year old Mary Zelter, a woman with dementia, who signed herself out of an assisted living facility and accidentally drove into the intercoastal waterway.

To qualify for an alert in Florida, the missing person must be at least 60 years old and have “an irreversible deterioration of intellectual faculties” (i.e. dementia). An alert may be issued for a missing adult with dementia under age 60 “under extraordinary circumstances” if law enforcement determines the missing person lacks the capacity to consent and that the alert may be the only way to rescue him or her. Local law enforcement must investigate the disappearance, verify the person’s condition, and determine that the disappearance poses a credible threat to the person’s safety and well-being.

Statewide alerts in Florida are issued only when a vehicle is involved in the disappearance. Local alerts are issued in all other situations at the local law enforcement agency’s discretion. Agencies contact media outlets in their immediate or surrounding jurisdictions. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s (FDLE) Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse, this is because most individuals who disappear on foot are typically found within a mile of their starting location.

If a vehicle is involved in the disappearance, the local agency must verify the vehicle and license plate information and contact the FLDE Clearinghouse. The agency must also enter the missing person into the Florida Crime information Center and issue a statewide “Be On the Look Out” request to other law enforcement agencies and 911 centers. FDLE determines if the information is broadcast regionally or statewide. It submits the vehicle information to Transportation Department for display on electronic road signs. The signs remain activated for up to six hours unless the alert is cancelled. FDLE also contacts the Highway Patrol Communications Center which faxes and emails the alert to its regional offices.

Between October, 2008, and January of 2009, 27 alerts were issued in Florida. All 27 missing persons were found, six of whom were found specifically because of the alert. The program is funded within FDLE’s existing budget; it received no specific appropriation.

There are at least 13 states with Silver Alert programs: Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia. Five other states (Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) are currently considering legislation to establish such programs.

Rhode Island is the only New England state with an existing Silver Alert program. In 2008 the legislature created a Missing Senior Citizen Alert program for Rhode Island residents over age 60 with an impaired mental condition. A local law enforcement agency must investigate the disappearance, determine that it poses a credible threat to the person’s health and safety, and obtain written documentation verifying the person’s mental impairment. If all criteria are met, the agency contacts the State Police which initiates the alert. The State Police notifies the Rhode Island Broadcaster’s Association by phone, which then distributes the information to its participating media outlets (participation is voluntary). If a vehicle is involved in the disappearance, the State Police contacts the Department of Transportation, which broadcasts the alert on electronic road signs.

On a national level, the U. S. House of Representatives has passed legislation to establish a national, coordinated Silver Alert system that includes federal grants to develop and enhance state programs. The U. S Senate failed to act on a similar bill. Legislation may be reintroduced during the next congressional session.

Reprint Courtesy of Mass Home Care.