Originally Published: April 26, 2014 6:03 a.m.
The term "Amber Alert" has become familiar to most Americans, who know that a child is missing when the words crawl across the bottom of the television screen or cause cell phones to beep.
It is an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, but we know this notification was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996.
These alerts are sent out by commercial radio stations, internet radio, television stations and cable TV to the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio. The alerts also go out via email, electronic traffic-condition signs, the LED billboards that are located outside newer Walgreens drugstores and many other means that get people's attention in a hurry.
There are strict criteria that police agencies use before issuing an Amber Alert. They have to confirm that a child has been kidnapped, that the child is at risk of serious injury or death, that there is sufficient descriptive information of the child's captor and that the child must be under the age of 18.
The U.S. Department of Justice says that of the children abducted by strangers and murdered, 75 percent are killed within the first three hours in the United States.
That is why, when law officers confirm that a child has fallen into the hands of a devious stranger, that as many eyes and ears as possible are on the lookout.
Just as with an Amber Alert, chills go up and down our spine when we see on a television newscast that a senior adult has disappeared. We don't suspect kidnapping in these cases. Rather, we picture a vulnerable adult suffering from dementia who has wandered away from home or driven somewhere and become disoriented and lost. These cases can have sad endings, too.
But, now Arizona will have a system in place to alert the public when an older adult goes missing.
On Friday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill creating a new system for seniors who vanish unexpectedly. Senate Bill 1097 creates a "Silvert Alert" system modeled after the Amber Alerts, which requires the state Department of Public Safety to coordinate emergency alerts for seniors who are missing and who are thought to be in danger. The new law gives DPS the authority to use its emergency alert system to get the information out quickly.
This isn't to say that law enforcement agencies don't already conduct exhaustive searches for missing elderly people. We know they do.
But, with the growing population of seniors and rising numbers of cases of Alzheimer's disease, SB1097 should prove to be a valuable means of letting the public help in the search missing older adults.