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Senior Alert Passes Legislature, Protects Seniors

Gruenberg/Ellis legislation creates public notification for missing seniors and vulnerable adults

JUNEAU – Today, the Legislature finalized passage of House Bill 59, a bill creating a public notification system for missing seniors and vulnerable adults. The bill passed the Senate unanimously yesterday with minor changes which the House approved this evening.

“Much like the Amber Alert helps find missing children, the Silver Alert can save lives by coordinating efforts to find seniors and vulnerable adults should they go missing,” said Representative Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage), the prime sponsor of the legislation.

Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) cross-sponsored the bill and is the prime sponsor of its Senate companion.

“Creating a ‘Silver Alert’ in Alaska has been a top priority for numerous organizations that represent seniors, veterans, and the disabled,” said Senator Ellis.  “The only concern I’ve heard about this bill is ‘Why the heck haven’t we done this already?’”

Similar to the “Amber Alert” system for missing children, House Bill 59 creates rapid response and notification plans for law enforcement to activate when a vulnerable adult goes missing.  The bill’s protections would apply to senior citizens with dementia, adults with developmental disabilities, veterans suffering from PTSD, and other disabled adults who go missing.

The bill received overwhelming support from testifiers during as it moved through the Legislature.  Silver Alert supporter Michael VanVleet, a disabled Iraq War veteran who works at Ft. Richardson’s Warrior Transition Unit, said it was a much-needed tool to address the problem he observes of veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder going wandering in distressed mental states.

Thirty-eight other states have “Silver Alerts” or related programs with demonstrated success in improving the outcomes of missing person searches for a vulnerable adult.  Alaska has a particular need for a “Silver Alert” program given the state’s harsh weather and vast wilderness, coupled with its growing senior population. 

The program will be designed by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, in cooperation with the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs, to best incorporate the voluntary cooperation of media outlets in notifying the public of a missing vulnerable adult through television, radio, and social media.

Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) joined Rep. Gruenberg and Sen. Ellis as an early cosponsor and champion of the legislation.  It now goes to the governor for his signature.

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