Silver Alert: Locating Vulnerable Adults
On the morning of June 4, 2022, I got a social media notification that our local police service was searching for a woman living with Alzheimer's disease. The woman had been waiting in a vehicle while her family member went inside to pay for gas.
As he was leaving the gas station, video captured the car driving off and a man chasing after the vehicle but losing pace as his stolen vehicle was driven off with his loved one inside.
The incident happened around 1 AM. The police tweet came out at 9:27 AM, the police service did a press conference at 10:30 AM, and finally, at 11:10 AM, my phone went off with an emergency alert called a Silver Alert, with details about the woman's abduction, the family vehicle, and the suspect.
I kept refreshing the police's Twitter, and Facebook feeds. For those of us with loved ones with Alzheimer's disease, this is among our worst nightmares.
Locating vulnerable older adults
At 11:14 AM, 4 minutes after the Silver Alert was issued, a 911 call came in that someone had seen the distinct vehicle driving in the furthest west part of the city. This report was not the correct Jeep, but officers remained searching the area.
At 11:50 AM, police located the woman, safe in the vehicle, around a 6-minute drive from the gas station she had been last seen at 11 hours earlier. She was physically unharmed.
Even though the tip about the vehicle did not lead to the right vehicle, it put the crews closer to the right place. The suspect had not been located, as I wrote this a couple of hours later. But while I am sure finding him is a priority, finding the woman was the main objective of the police service.
Once the Silver Alert was issued, it took only 1 hour and 37 minutes for the announcement to come that the woman had been located safe. The system worked.
What is a Silver Alert?
Silver Alerts are issued when a vulnerable adult is missing for any reason. Despite the name, in most jurisdictions, Silver Alerts can be used for any vulnerable adult. They are similar to how Amber Alert is used for missing children.1
Also similar to the Amber Alert, Silver Alerts are issued only in very specific circumstances. Silver Alerts allow local authorities to release information about the person's diagnosis (for example, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or other cognitive disability) that they would be unable to under a normal missing person alert.1
Silver Alerts allow more police resources to be brought into the search. In the right circumstances, this type of alert allows for the use of the emergency alerting system called Alert Ready here in Canada. Alert Ready is used to broadcast critical information by interrupting radio and TV broadcasts and sending a wireless alert.1
The standards for utilizing Silver Alerts
At the time of the news conference, the Public Information Officer was, of course, working as quickly as possible to get the word out about the missing woman. But this meant he did not have full details on what comprises a Silver Alert under Manitoba law.
As in the United States, Canadian provinces have the authority to determine how these laws work and what they are called. The amendment to the Missing Persons Act here in Manitoba allows:1
- Broadcast messaging to be used to assist with the quick location and return of vulnerable adults after they go missing.
- Police collaboration with media toward the safe return of the vulnerable adult.
Do Silver Alerts work?
Silver Alerts go under different names in different locations. And unfortunately, there is no centralized database about the success of Silver Alerts reuniting vulnerable adults with their loved ones. My province (Manitoba) and Alberta are the only 2 provinces with Silver Alert legislation.2
Through media reports, I can find 6 Silver Alerts issued locally since the Act was passed in 2017, excluding the one on June 4. Every one of these 6 resulted in a safe return. They have also located the same individual on 4 separate occasions.
Silver Alerts go by different names in some states. But in Texas, where Silver Alert has been on the books since 2007, 94 percent of missing vulnerable seniors are found safe.3
Many states make use of electronic road signs to convey information about the missing vulnerable adult who may be traveling in a vehicle but does not use broadcast message alerts. The statistics vary regarding whether the Silver Alert directly impacted the return of a vulnerable person.3
Improvements are needed
It surprises me that more provinces here in Canada don't have Silver Alert legislation. I understand it is just one tool, but with the exception of a temporary loss of privacy for the individual and their loved ones, I don't understand how it is not widespread like the Amber Alert system is.
Can we use other strategies as well? Absolutely! But that doesn't mean this one is not an important piece of a safe return.
Have you witnessed the activation of a Silver Alert or similar legislation in your community? Does your province, territory, or state have similar laws in place? As someone whose life has been touched by Alzheimer's disease or related dementia, what do you think of them? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
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