Missing Adult Alert Program
FAQs for Family and Caregivers
The program alerts law enforcement and the public when an individual who is at least 18 years old and has a cognitive disorder, mental disability or brain disorder goes missing. Time is of the essence when a person goes missing; the program allows for the rapid dissemination of information that can result in an individual’s safe return.
The Missing Adult Alert Program took effect Oct. 23, 2011, after being signed into law by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. The program is administered by the Missing Persons Clearinghouse at the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
The law creating the program responded to several instances where cognitively impaired individuals wandered from their homes and went missing for an extended period of time, placing themselves at risk.
- The missing person must be at least 18 years old and have a cognitive disorder, mental disability or brain disorder. He or she also must face a credible risk of harm.
- Only law enforcement agencies can contact the Missing Persons Clearinghouse and request a Missing Adult Alert.
- Family members of a loved one who has gone missing should contact their local law enforcement agency (police department or sheriff’s office) as soon as possible; that call will trigger the Missing Adult Alert process. The reporting party must articulate the fact that the missing person has a cognitive impairment.
- The local law enforcement agency will determine whether the criteria for an Alert are met; the agency will then contact the Clearinghouse to request an Alert. If the criteria are not met, the agency will investigate the case based on its policy for handling missing persons cases. The Clearinghouse is available to provide investigative support to the agency.
What type of information should a family member convey to law enforcement when reporting a loved one missing?
- Their physical description and any distinguishing characteristics: height, weight, eye and hair color, and if they wear eyeglasses, a hearing aid or use a cane or wheelchair.
- Their clothing when last seen
- Medical information related to their condition, and a list of medications
- A photograph, either hard copy or electronic version. A JPEG file format is preferred but not mandatory.
- Whether the individual is enrolled in a system that tracks his or her whereabouts via GPS.
- Any relevant vehicle information, whether the individual was the driver or passenger
The Alert is distributed to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the public in a variety of ways, including the Division of Criminal Justice Services website; variable message signs on the New York State Thruway and other highways; posted at Thruway toll booths, rest stops and bus, train and airline terminals. The information is distributed geographically, depending on where the person is missing from and where they likely may travel to.
Media outlets have the option of whether to broadcast Missing Adult Alert information; they are not required to do so.
The public can play an important role in the rescue of missing persons with a cognitive impairment. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 95 percent of individuals who go missing in these situations are found within a quarter mile from their home or the last location they were seen.
If you learn of a Missing Adult Alert in your area, pay attention to the description and any additional information, such as a vehicle involved. Contact 9-1-1 if you have any information. Be sure to communicate the person’s whereabouts – street, city, county – and vehicle information, including license plate number and description, if applicable
A Missing Adult Alert is active for up to 72 hours; highway message signs are activated for the first eight hours after the Alert is issued. If the individual is not located in 72 hours, the case will remain an active missing persons case and continue to be publicized on the DCJS website.
The following organizations and agencies can assist:
Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.org
National Autism Association: www.autismsafety.org
New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities: www.opwdd.ny.gov
New York State Office for the Aging: www.aging.ny.gov
New York State Office of Mental Health: www.omh.ny.gov