I know you have all probably heard of an Amber Alert, but have you heard of a Silver Alert? I had never heard of this until last week when I was driving on the highway in Maryland. I saw an overhead message sign that read: Silver Alert, Orange KIA, license plate number – – -, call 911. Later I learned that a Silver Alert is a public notification system that broadcasts information about missing persons, especially older adults with dementia, Alzheimer’s or other mental disabilities. Pennsylvania refers to this type of alert as the Missing Endangered Person Advisory System (MEPAS). These alerts can be found on commercial radio stations, television stations, cable TV, and message signs on roadways. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 60% of dementia sufferers will wander, and if not found within 24 hours, up to half of those individuals who wander will suffer significant injury or death.
Governor Rendell signed Senate Bill 976 into law in 2010, which added managing the MEPAS to the Pennsylvania State Police’s duties in addition to maintenance of the Amber Alert system. This system was officially announced as operational by the PA State Police in February of 2011. I cannot believe that this system has been active for almost two years and I had never heard of it before. With the growing elderly population and the corresponding increase in the number of seniors with dementia, this system is very important and people should be informed about it so it can be used to its fullest capacity. Some states have decided not to use the Silver Alert system because they worry that having too many alerts may desensitize people to these events and cause them not to pay attention to the details. Those states have limited their alert systems to the Amber Alert system for kidnapped children in immediate danger.
If you have a loved one with dementia or a similar mental disability who goes missing, call 911 and mention the MEPAS alert system. If the police determine that this is a case that triggers the MEPAS Alert system, information will be sent to local media outlets, such as TV and radio stations. In addition, there will be an alert on the programmable highway message signs, like the one that I saw. A MEPAS message will provide as much information as possible to help find the missing person. The message may include a description of the car the person was last seen in, the person’s clothing and where they were last seen.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Alert System is in the process of incorporating the MEPAS alert into its alert system that provides alerts to your email, cell phone, pager or smartphone/PDA soon. Keep an eye out for this new addition, the Silver Alert, on PA’s website here.