Politics & Government

New ‘Silver Alert’ aims to help find missing seniors

Police searching for missing seniors in Washington will soon have a new tool at their disposal: A designated “Silver Alert” that will flash across highway signs and permeate radio traffic advisories throughout the state.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill designating a special emergency alert for missing older adults who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The Silver Alert program will use the state’s current missing person alert system that activates electronic highway signs and radio traffic advisories, but it will apply the new label “Silver Alert” to notices aimed at locating endangered adults age 60 and older.

State Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said using that specific term will help grab the public’s attention and better enlist their help to find adults who may have wandered from their home or care facility, much like the state uses Amber Alerts to help locate missing children.

“If you’re driving home and you see an Amber Alert, you know exactly what that’s about,” said Appleton, who sponsored the legislation. “Now if you drive home and you see a Silver Alert, you will be looking for that wandering person. And it will save lives.”

Unlike an Amber Alert, however, the state’s Silver Alert program won’t activate the federally managed Emergency Alert System that interrupts television and regular radio broadcasts. The state doesn’t have permission from the Federal Communications Commission to use the federal emergency system for that purpose, representatives of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters testified earlier this year.

More than 40 other states already have a Silver Alert system that specifically applies to older adults, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Even so, Carri Gordon, manager of the State Patrol’s Endangered Missing Person Advisory program, said the agency may need to do some public outreach to help ensure members of the public know the significance of the Silver Alert.

“It’s going to require some public education, but I think it will be a little more recognizable to those who are already familiar with that system somewhere else,” Gordon said.

The State Patrol had expressed concerns about an earlier version of the bill that would have required the state to create an entirely new alert system. But Gordon said the Legislature addressed those problems by specifying that the state’s existing Endangered Missing Person Advisory system will be used to broadcast the new Silver Alerts.

The new law creating the Silver Alert designation will take effect in late July.