On Feb. 26, 2008, Mrs. Mary Zelter, of Largo, FL, drove away from her assisted living facility in her white Chrysler Sebring convertible and never returned. Mary was 86 years old, and suffered from dementia. Her body was found a week later 10 miles away in the Intracoastal Waterway. Her submerged car was nearby.
After her death, local people came together to build what they hoped would be a pilot program based in Pinellas County to prevent such tragedies in the future. Among the original committee members was Largo Police Chief Lester Aradi, Sallie Parks of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats, and Mrs. Zelter’s daughter, Mary Lallucci. Instead of remaining a locally based pilot program in Pinellas County, their program became a statewide initiative based upon the highly successful Amber Alert for missing children.
On October 8, 2008, Governor Charlie Crist signed an Executive Order enacting the Florida Silver Alert. In June, 2009, the Florida Silver Alert Support Committee was established by the Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA).
From April through June, 2010, a DOEA grant funded The Silver Alert Project. The goal was to develop coordination and standardization of law enforcement protocols. The project was designed to provide statewide education and training to all Florida law enforcement personnel, members of the community, dementia care specialists, caregivers, and persons with Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders. The aim was to increase understanding of the benefits of the Silver Alert system and to improve public safety. In order to accomplish this, the Silver Alert Support Committee explored the causes of elopement or wandering, where a cognitively impaired person becomes lost and endangered, and also explored ways to decrease the incidence of these events.
Due to the advocacy of the Silver Alert Support Committee, Florida Silver Alert became state law during the 2011 Florida legislative session. Florida statute 937.0201, addressing missing persons, was amended to include Silver Alert. The term “missing endangered person” now includes missing adults who meet the criteria for Silver Alert. According to this law, persons providing information related to the missing person, when acting in good faith, are provided immunity from civil liability. As the result of this legislation, agencies (both law enforcement and service providers) may now communicate information about the endangered missing person among themselves and to the media. In an effort to expand Silver Alert to better accommodate our community in 2011-2012 Silver Alert is now applicable to those who are “lost on foot”.