7 Tips for Using Your Mass Notification System for Silver Alerts

Written by Ryan Strait

Learn how you can use your mass notification system to help return wandering seniors safely home.

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The safety and protection of your citizens is a top priority for your public safety department. At a time when it feels like a growing list of outside threats are continually placing your citizens in harm’s way, it is vital to ensure your community has procedures in place to guard against a threatening and unpredictable risk: that of wandering by elderly citizens or adults suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive disabilities. Your citizen mass notification system should serve as a critical tool in your emergency communication strategy to notify your community and expand your search efforts if a wandering citizen goes missing. With the proper, timely notification of a Silver Alert, you can leverage the collective awareness and care of your citizens to help reunite wandering residents with their loved ones.

What is a Silver Alert?

Silver Alerts are emergency notifications used to notify residents of a missing, wandering older adult who may be suffering from a documented cognitive disability or degenerative memory disorder. Depending on the regulations of your state and community, Silver Alerts may be used to notify the public in cases that pertain to missing persons:

  • Age 65 or older
  • With a diagnosed and documented impaired medical condition
  • In which their disappearance could pose a credible threat to the individual’s health or safety
  • Whose disappearance is known to be due to their cognitive disability

In some states, Silver Alerts may also be used to help locate children who are missing but not believed to be in danger or abducted. In cases of potential kidnapping, an AMBER AlertTM should be issued instead.

The Growing Risk of Wandering Seniors

According to a report issued by the United States Census Bureau, by 2030, all baby boomers will be older than age 65, expanding the size of the nation’s senior population so that one in every five residents will be retirement age, a total that will exceed the number of children for the first time in our nation’s history. Compounding implications of an aging population, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.7 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease, a number that includes an estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65. Researchers further estimate that roughly six in ten dementia victims will wander at least once. If not found within 24 hours, up to half of wandering seniors with dementia suffer serious injury or death.

State-Based Silver Alert Criteria

Each state has its own Silver Alert activation criteria, so begin establishing your notification procedures by familiarizing yourself with the regulations of your state. Today, 27 states have implemented missing persons recovery programs formally referred to as “Silver Alert” programs (AK, AZ, AR, CA, CT, FL, IL, IN, KS, LA, ME, MD, MA, MS, NV, NJ, NM, NC, OK, OR, RI, SC, TN, TX, WA, WV, WI), nine states have established programs to help recover missing seniors that contain criteria similar to Silver Alert programs (AB, CO, GA, KY, MI, NH, NY, OH, VA), and eight states have missing persons alert programs with broader criteria, allowing for the issuance of emergency alerts in cases of any endangered  or missing person (DE MN, MO, MT, PA, SD, UT, WY).

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Best Practices for Successful Silver Alert Usage

In the event of a Silver Alert in your community, your mass notification system will offer critical, multi-channel, dynamic communication capabilities to individuals in the area surrounding the senior’s disappearance. To give your public safety personnel the best chance for an early reuniting of separated loved ones, follow these best practices when issuing emergency Silver Alert notifications.

  • Only issue notifications for cases that meet your state’s Silver Alert criteria. The power and effectiveness of your emergency notifications lies in their relevance and appropriate use. By only issuing alerts to assist with validated missing senior cases, your citizens will be most likely to take note and take action to help with search efforts.
  • Issue the Silver Alert within the first 72 hours of the senior’s disappearance. Timely notifications increase the probability of returning the senior home before he or she suffers a wandering-related injury or illness.
  • Use all possible notification channels. Your mass notification system should integrate with social media, radio and television broadcasts, and road signage, as well as targeting subscribers via email, text message, and voice message to amplify the reach of your message.
  • Geo-target communications. A wandering senior is likely only going to be capable of traveling within a limited radius of the location of their disappearance unless the resident is traveling by vehicle. To ensure your Silver Alert reaches citizens in the search radius, use the geo-fencing capabilities of your mass notification system.
  • Utilize a mass notification solution with multilingual translation capabilities. If a senior goes missing in your community, you will need the eyes of every possible member of your community. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) estimates that one in five U.S. residents speaks a foreign language at home. You cannot risk the chance that the one person who has seen your missing resident cannot interpret for Silver Alert notification. Be sure your mass notification solution offers multilingual translation functionality.

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  • Include a description of the missing resident and a current photo. Telling citizens only that your public safety office is issuing a Silver Alert is not enough. Provide a detailed description of the missing resident including age, gender, physical characteristics, a description of the vehicle and license plate number if applicable, and the individual’s last known whereabouts. To enable citizens to be most effective in their search efforts, include a current photo of the resident in your Silver Alert email and text message notification.
  • Leverage the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). IPAWS distributes your alert messages to the nation’s emergency communication channels, such as the wireless emergency alerts (WEA) network and via NOAA weather radios. IPAWS does not require citizen notification subscriptions or opt-ins, which significantly increases the impact of your alert by reaching all residents and travelers in the established search radius.

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A Missing Senior Alert Success Story

On a Sunday morning in Blount, Tennessee, Lance Coleman, Blount County Emergency Management Director, was visiting with family when he received a call that a Blount County citizen and 77-year-old dementia patient was missing. The man’s wife contacted the Blount County emergency dispatcher’s office shortly after 12:05 a.m. that morning to report that her husband had wandered out of the home in his pajamas and that she had not been able to locate him. The call initiated a seven-hour search for the man that encompassed a four to five-mile radius. Thanks to the efforts of the County’s emergency response personnel, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, the County’s administrative leadership, and the use of its IPAWS emergency alert notification system, the man was successfully found and returned home. Click here to read the full story.

Learn about CivicReady mass notification technology

Regardless of the crisis, your mass notification system should be one of the most powerful tools available to you to issue time-sensitive, impactful news, information, warnings, and alerts to residents and travelers in your area. If you are not currently utilizing a mass notification system, but are ready to implement a solution that will help you keep your citizens safe, click below to learn the ten things to look for when choosing a mass notification system.


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