Skip to main content

Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2017 Vol. 64 No. 2

Silver Alert Program

According to a 2016 report issued by the Alzheimer's Association, one in nine people (age 65 and older) has Alzheimer's disease in the United States. Of those with Alzheimer's disease, it is predicted that six out of 10 will wander. Unfortunately, wandering has numerous sobering and sometimes deadly consequences. In order to engage public awareness, communities have modified an existing resource renowned for saving the lives of abducted children, known as an AMBER Alert. In the same way an AMBER Alert rapidly circulates child abduction information, it is possible to receive advisories for missing older adults whose lives are in danger, known as a Silver Alert.

The term "Silver Alert" was first introduced by an Oklahoma state representative in 2005, supporting an "AMBER Alert for Seniors" bill, on behalf of the state's Silver Haired Legislature.  Today, Silver Alert programs exist in most communities, however, the criteria specifying the age and medical condition of the wanderer will vary.  In Texas, legislators implemented the state's Silver Alert network in 2007 for those missing older adults (age 65 +) with a documented mental condition.  The below legislative criteria was included in order to prevent public desensitization:

  • Is the missing person 65 years of age or older?
  • Does the senior citizen have a diagnosed impaired mental condition, and does the senior citizen's disappearance pose a credible threat to the senior citizen's health and safety?  (Law enforcement shall require the family or legal guardian of the missing senior citizen to provide documentation from a medical or mental health professional of the senior citizen's condition).
  • Is it confirmed that an investigation has taken place verifying that the senior citizen's disappearance is due to his/her impaired mental condition, and alternate reasons for the senior citizen's disappearance have been ruled out?
  • Is the Silver Alert request within 72 hours of the senior citizen's disappearance?
  • Is there sufficient information to disseminate to the public that could assist in locating the senior citizen?  (Highway signs will be activated only if accurate vehicle information is available and it is confirmed that the senior citizen was driving the vehicle at the time of the disappearance).   

It is critical to understand that a diagnosis of an impaired mental condition is required, prior to activating the state's Silver Alert network.  The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will consider all forms of medical documentation on a case-by-case basis, however, it is recommended for the public to obtain the following information on physician's letterhead, prior to a wandering incident:

  • Date of diagnosis;
  • Patient's name;
  • Diagnosis of an impaired mental condition; and
  • Physician's signature.

There is no expiration period, in which the above documentation must be renewed.  It is also important to understand that the Silver Alert program is not just limited to Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.  An impaired mental condition will be considered a condition or disorder as defined by the current version of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  The definition includes a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress or disability or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom.  In addition, the current condition would present a significant level of impairment to pose a credible threat to the individual's health and safety.

Because there is no waiting period to issue a Silver Alert, the public should immediately report the wandering incident to local law enforcement, who is the only authorized user of the state's Silver Alert network.  Once local law enforcement has obtained the required medical documentation and determined state criteria has been satisfied, an online request form can be completed and routed to the DPS State Operations Center (SOC) at the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).

The SOC functions as the intake and alert resource coordinator of the state's Silver Alert network.  Once a request is received from local law enforcement, the SOC immediately reviews the request and deploys alert resources, based upon satisfying alert criteria.  During an activation of the state's Silver Alert network, the following technology resources are made available:

  • Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Highway Signs
  • Texas Lottery Commission Vendor Machines and Electronic Scrolling Signs
  • Media
    • Local radio and television news service outlets
  • Law Enforcement
    • Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are notified via the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (TLETS)
  • Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT) Electronic Signs
    • IBAT members are encouraged to display alert information within their lobby and drive-through facilities, to include electronic messaging systems.
  • Twitter - @TX_Alerts
    • Follow @TX_Alerts to receive Silver Alert information statewide, issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
  • Participating Companies and Organizations
    • TDEM's SOC maintains an extensive list of participating companies and public content providers, with the ability to rapidly disseminate information to Texas citizens.

The alert distribution area is based upon the investigative information received by the requesting local law enforcement agency and is not always statewide.

In addition to the state's Silver Alert program, law enforcement may choose to issue their own local Silver Alert, or utilize existing regional alerting networks.  A list of independent regional networks in Texas can be found at Texas Regional Alert Programs.

Not all regional networks offer a Silver Alert capability and the criteria could differ from the state's program.  Local law enforcement agencies are encouraged to utilize all available resources (local, regional and state), during a wandering incident.

The Silver Alert program has been credited with saving the lives of older adults nationwide.  It is important for law enforcement and the public to be prepared in advance of a wandering incident.  Our office welcomes you to visit the below DPS Alert Program website and learn how you can make a difference.

AMBER, Silver, Blue & Endangered Missing Persons Alert Programs

Share |