Most Americans know an "Amber Alert" signals a missing child. It's an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, but named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996.
Commercial and internet radio, television stations and cable TV broadcast to the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio. The alerts also go out via email, electronic traffic-condition signs, LED billboards and other means that quickly get people's attention.
Police agencies follow strict criteria before issuing an Amber Alert. They have to confirm that a child under the age of 18 has been kidnapped, that the child is at risk of serious injury or death and that there is sufficient descriptive information of the child's captor.
The U.S. Department of Justice says that of the children abducted by strangers and murdered in the U.S., 75 percent are killed within the first three hours. That is why as many eyes and ears as possible need to be on the lookout when a child goes missing.
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, but rather see 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 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.