By MIRANDA ORSO
---- — ALBANY — The state recently marked the one-year anniversary of the Missing Adult Alert system, celebrating its success in helping law-enforcement officers find individuals who have gone missing.
The system operates similar to Amber Alerts and is used when a person who is 18 or older and diagnosed with a cognitive brain disorder, like dementia and autism, or mental impairment, is reported missing and deemed to be at risk for harm.
Since the program went live for the first time, the Missing Persons Clearinghouse at the State Division of Criminal Justice Services has issued 21 alerts, Deputy Director of Public Information Janine Kava said in a statement.
Law-enforcement officials credited the system with helping to locate seven adults from among those reports who were reported missing in their communities.
“Time is of the essence when anyone goes missing, but it is particularly critical when individuals who are unable to care for themselves because of a cognitive impairment or brain disorder wander away from home,” Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Elizabeth Glazer said in a statement.
“This system allows law enforcement to mobilize the public and other agencies to assist in the search, increasing the odds that these individuals will be quickly located and reunited with their families.”
About 800 officers from across the state attended training this past spring to get accustomed to the using the system effectively, and the clearinghouse is sponsoring a second training course devoted to search-and-rescue tactics.
Locally, Plattsburgh City Police Capt. Michael Branch said officers from his department attended the system training, though they have not yet had call to utilize it.
The Clinton County Sheriff’s Office is familiar with the system, according to Lt. Paul Rissetto, but he said they use a procedure called A Child Is Missing when an alert is necessary, as it can be enacted more quickly and has proven effective in locating missing persons.
“The sheriff brought it on about two years ago, and we’ve used it four times,” he said.
With A Child Is Missing, they are able to pull up important GPS information of where a missing person was last seen and, with the help of a call center located in Florida, can send out an automated message to all land-line phones and cellphones in that area requesting that people check their property.
“It’s absolutely helpful. It allows us to eliminate geographical areas. We can reach 4,000 phones in a matter of 15 minutes,” Rissetto said.
The Missing Adult Alert system works in a similar fashion by quickly circulating information about missing people, once a law-enforcement agency determines they are at a credible risk of harm.
After the clearinghouse is notified of a person in possible danger, pertinent information can be spread electronically statewide to police agencies, broadcast media, newspapers, hospitals, Thruway travel plazas and toll booths, airports, bus terminals, train stations and border crossings.
Kava said cognitive disorders, mental disabilities or brain injuries can cause confusion and wandering in affected adults, who are rarely aware they are in danger and may not be able to ask for assistance.
The alert system can be especially beneficial for adults age 80 and older, a segment of the population that is growing rapidly, New York State Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen said in a statement.
“The fastest-growing segment of the population is those aged 85 and older. These individuals are also the most at risk for a cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” he said.
“Unfortunately, cognitive impairments can make individuals vulnerable, particularly to wandering. The Missing Adult Alert system provides a crucial safety net for those vulnerable, older individuals who may go missing, by coordinating a statewide search and ensuring that the vulnerable adult is found.”
The Alzheimer’s Association said about six out of 10 patients with dementia will wander at least once, putting at least 50 percent at risk for potentially serious harm and death if they are not found within 24 hours following a disappearance.
As sheriff of Putnam County and president of the state’s Sheriffs’ Association, Donald B. Smith praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators for enacting the adult alert system.
“Extending an effective protocol, the Amber Alert system, to a vulnerable population, missing adults with cognitive impairments, has made a significant contribution to public safety, allowing law enforcement to provide vulnerable adults the same kind of immediate response and public alert system that we provide to missing children,” he said.
“I also want to thank the New York State Broadcasters for their strong support of this program in helping us to make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.”
HOW TO REPORT
If someone you know with a brain injury, cognitive disorder or mental disability goes missing, there are important steps the DCJS says you can take:
• Contact local law enforcement to report your loved one is missing and that their life may be in imminent danger so that the alert system can be activated, and have their vital information entered into the National Crime Information Center Missing Person File.
• Be prepared to provide the following important information: name, height, weight, hair and eye color, date of birth, what the person was wearing prior to the disappearance and any vehicle information if the person were driving. Also notify police of any unique identifiers such as eyeglasses, mobility limitations and special interests.