Most Americans are aware that an Amber Alert is a nationwide emergency notification system that goes into effect when there’s a child believed to be missing, abducted, or in danger.
Silver Alerts are intended to provide a similar protocol for locating older Americans, particularly those suffering from dementia and thus more prone to wander off and become lost and injured.
But unlike Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts have yet to be adopted by all states, and there is still no federal legislation that provides protocol and funding for coordinated efforts among states.
That means Silver Alerts cover different people in different places — when they exist at all.
So what is a Silver Alert?
A Silver Alert is a public notification system that broadcasts information, via an array of media outlets, about missing elderly persons — particularly those that are cognitively impaired or physically disabled — in order to aid in locating and retrieving them.
Those media outlets include commercial radio and television stations, cable television, and alternate messaging systems such as the variable-message signs you see on roadways.
The alerts provide authorities on a local and state level, plus the general public, information that may help facilitate the person’s safe return.
What triggers a Silver Alert?
The requirements for a Silver Alert vary from state to state.
Wyeth Ruthven, executive director at the American Silver Alert Coalition, told Considerable, “The key differential is the qualifying criteria for an endangered senior or adult. Some states require prior medical documentation of a mental or developmental impairment. Others apply to anyone over the age of 65. Still others apply to any adult of any age.”
States with Silver Alerts
Twenty-seven states that currently have some sort of Silver Alert protocol in place:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
States with services similar to Silver Alerts (but not called ‘Silver Alerts’)
Nine other states have protocols for locating elderly people, although they aren’t called Silver Alerts:
- New Hampshire
- New York
States with missing-person programs, regardless of age
Finally, an additional nine states have missing-persons alert systems that apply to all persons considered endangered, regardless of age or impairment:
- South Dakota
States with no missing-person program
That leaves four states that have no specific program for expediting the search for missing persons (aside from the national Amber Alert):
A federal Silver Alert system comparable to Amber Alerts would make it easier for states to share information and coordinate search efforts for missing elders.
With so many distinctions across so many jurisdictions, it’s important to be aware of your own state’s specific criteria in regards to missing persons.
According to Ruthven, “The position of the American Silver Alert Coalition is that qualifying criteria is best left to the individual states, but that federal legislation is needed, to assist coordination between states, so state law enforcement can share best practices for locating missing persons.”
So what is the federal holdup?
Congress has attempted to pass federal legislation since 2008 with the introduction of the National Silver Alert Act to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill has had numerous fits and starts, and currently awaits approval by Congress.
Advocates for such legislation, such as the American Silver Alert Coalition, believe it will only enhance the efficacy of Silver Alert programs.
Meanwhile, critics of Silver Alerts say they are expensive; a possible violation of civil liberties; and one too many color codes in the alert world.
With an increasingly aging population, however, the United States should move to locate older individuals who may be more vulnerable to injury and harm — whatever the color of the alert.