Recently-signed Silver Alert law will save lives

Too often in today’s fractured and partisan political climate it takes a highly publicized tragedy before our elected officials will work together to solve a problem. Alaska is best served by leaders who will plan for the future, rather than scramble to close barn doors after the fact.

That’s why Representative Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage) and I introduced parallel bills during this past legislative session to enact a Silver Alert system in Alaska. This program uses statewide media outlets to engage the public when a vulnerable adult goes missing. Thanks to the hard work of concerned citizens and organizations across the Alaska, the Governor signed Silver Alert into law June 12 after it passed with unanimous legislative support.

Let me explain the value of the Silver Alert system. AARP reports that Alaska’s senior population is growing at an accelerated rate and more senior citizens are choosing to retire in Alaska than in previous years. The Alaska Commission on Aging reckons that approximately 12,000 Alaskans experience developmental disabilities and that nearly half of Alaskans 85 years and older suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Additionally, Alaska is home to three major military installations and was one of five states that saw its population of veterans increase over the last decade. Many of these veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other combat related disabilities.

We have a large and growing population of vulnerable adults in Alaska and it’s our responsibility to ensure they have the care and support they need. Silver Alert mandates unprecedented coordination between the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs and the Alaska Department of Public Safety to broadcast information about missing vulnerable adults to the public. This safety net is critical when you take into consideration Alaska’s uniquely harsh environment and the fact that 60 percent of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are likely to wander, even when under care.

We are confident that Silver Alert is both effective and efficient. The 37 other states that already have a Silver Alert style program in place have seen demonstrated improvements in their ability to find and care for vulnerable adults who go missing. Moreover, rather than throwing money at a problem, this program represents a way to use the resources we already have more effectively in times of crisis.

Most importantly, Silver Alert represents the potential of leaders willing to work together. When we focus on the real problems facing Alaskans, we are able to deliver policies that save money and help the most vulnerable among us. With this bill, we have identified a clear problem and come together to achieve a commonsense solution that keeps Alaskans safe.

Senator Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, is the Senate Minority Leader and serves downtown, Fairview and Mountain View in the Alaska Senate.

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