Capella Tucker reports even though the public tends to hear more about the Amber Alert, the Silver Alert is actually activated more.
Most days electronic billboards along highways tell people about traffic accidents and drive times. If a Silver Alert is issued, the signs will display descriptions and vehicle information related to a missing senior.
“They just have a habit of getting in cars with or without driving licenses and driving away.”
Harris County Precinct two Sergeant Rick Holloman says Silver Alerts are used only for seniors with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s.
The Silver Alert started in Texas a just more than a year ago.
Texas Department of Public Safety Spokesperson Tela Mange says in that time, Texas has had about 40 Amber Alerts compared to nearly 70 Silver Alerts.
“Many of them continue to have access to vehicles. They continue to have driver licenses. They continue to have cars, have keys to the cars, probably long past when some of them should have access to those vehicles.”
Mange says it’s something family members and care givers should pay close attention.
“We understand that no one wants to be the bad guy. They don’t want to be the one taking papa’s keys away from them, but they should understand if they have diminished mental capacity, then operating a motor vehicles may not be the best plan.”
The majority of senior citizens have been found safely. It’s believed that the Silver Alert played a role in well over a dozen of them. But getting accurate information from the family quickly is important.
Sgt. Holloman in Harris County has had difficulty getting families to provide information in past cases.
“This last case, they didn’t have a license plate number of the vehicle. We had to do a lot of research and finally found out what insurance company he had, called some agents. Through an agent, we were able to get his VIN number of the car. From there, we ran it through the system and got a license plate number.”
Families must also have a specifically formatted letter from the doctor concerning the missing senior’s diagnosis. The disappearance must be reported within 72 hours.
“And last year we had an elderly lady who was missing, but she was missing from a care provider who neglected to tell us that she was missing for more than 72 hours before she ever admitted she was gone. At that point DPS would not issue the Silver Alert because she’d been close to about 120 hours by the time we were notified she was missing.”
The reason for the 72 hour rule is the earlier it’s reported the better chance of finding the person.
“Here we actually found through an old system of getting the phone book and start calling every hospital.”
But that gave Sgt. Holloman an idea for improving the Silver Alert program.
“In this day and time with technology and computers, they could e-mail all hospitals, in say 14 counties surrounding.”
Capella Tucker, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.