Alert Systems for Missing Adults in Eleven States: Background and Issues for Congress

Publication Date: May 2009

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Author(s): Kristin J. Colello

Research Area: Population and demographics

Keywords: silver alert

Type: Report


A patchwork of alert systems to recover vulnerable missing adults is developing through the country. These systems, administered at the state and local levels, are intended to alert law enforcement entities and the public that adults with cognitive impairment or other disabilities are missing and may need assistance. The alerts are activated on behalf of targeted groups of individuals—such as those with cognitive or mental impairment (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia), developmental disabilities, or suicidal tendencies—who may be at high risk of going missing and unable to make their way home or to a safe place.

Recent media attention to cases of vulnerable missing adults has prompted policymakers to consider whether the federal government should expand its role in helping these individuals. Currently, the federal Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert program funds a service that provides enrollees—individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia—with a bracelet indicating that the individual is memory impaired, including a toll-free, 24-hour emergency response number to call if the person is found wandering or lost.

Some Members of Congress have expressed interest in assisting states to create and expand alert systems for missing adults. In the opening weeks of the 111th Congress, the House passed legislation (H.R. 632) to establish a grant program to encourage states to develop, expand, and coordinate these alert systems. A companion bill (S. 557) was introduced in the Senate shortly thereafter. The proposed program is similar to a federal grant program that funds training and technical assistance for what are known as AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert systems. Each state has developed an AMBER Alert system to assist in the recovery of children who are believed to have been abducted.

In response to the increased congressional focus on alert systems for missing adults, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) gathered data on 11 states (Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia) that were known to have developed such systems. CRS conducted a review of state laws, regulations, or executive orders that established the systems, and contacted officials in each of the states to learn more about how the systems were administered. CRS found that most of the systems were established only recently, since 2006.

This report provides an overview of the alert systems in these 11 states, including (1) the legal authority to establish the systems; (2) the target population for the alerts; (3) administrative responsibility for the alerts, including coordination with AMBER Alerts; (4) training of law enforcement agencies and other entities about the alerts; (5) the process for activating alerts; (6) coordination of alerts with other states; (7) system costs; (8) use of the systems; and (9) any information about outcomes of the individuals for whom alerts were activated.

The last section of the report provides a discussion of issues for Congress to consider with respect to the federal role, if any, in developing state alert programs for missing adults. For example, some states with alert systems noted that they might have difficulty coordinating with another state that lacks a similar system. States may also have challenges coordinating with states that have alert systems with different criteria that must be met before an alert is activated. The federal government may be able to help establish protocols to coordinate cross-state alerts and to assist in establishing formal agreements or protocols for the use of interstate alerts. This report will not be updated.