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Silver Alert

Program Title:

Silver Alert

Program Blurb:

Silver Alert is a public notification system that uses media and technology –television, radio, and traffic signs—to inform the public when an older individual has been reported missing. Silver Alert uses the same infrastructure and approach as AMBER Alert to help locate missing seniors who are vulnerable to various dangers while missing, such as falling and adverse weather conditions. In theory, when a Silver Alert is issued, the public functions as an extra set of “eyes and ears” for search and rescue in locating the missing older individual.

Is the program based on research?


Aspects of Silver Alert are built on psychological research on face recognition (see Gier, 2019). However, the implementation of Silver Alert was in response to the disappearance of an Atlanta resident with Alzheimer’s, who went missing and was found dead (Gier & Kreiner, 2019).

Has the program been independently evaluated?


There have been no independent evaluations of Silver Alert in a real-world context.

There have been three US studies that tested Silver Alert in experimental settings with university students. In each of these studies (Gier et al., 2017; Gier, 2019; Gier & Krenier, 2019), the authors utilized mock Silver Alerts, using either pictures or video footage, to identify factors that facilitate or inhibit facial recognition of missing older adults. The results from each of these studies are varied. In general, they discovered that showing educational videos before they ran a facial recognition test increased student recognition of a missing person; however, overall recognition rates with or without the video varied widely across the three studies. These findings are consistent with other studies, which finds that eyewitness identification is sometimes prone to error; especially when eyewitnesses observe someone by a picture or on video (Howe & Knott, 2014).

Was the program rigorously tested?


Although aspects of the program - such as facial recognition following missing alerts- have been tested in a lab setting (see Gier et al., 2017; Gier, 2019; Gier & Krenier, 2019); the Silver Alert program has not been evaluated.

Has the program evaluation been replicated?


There are no known program evaluations of Silver Alert.

Was the program tested in Canada?


The program has not been tested in Canada.


Despite media reports highlighting the success of Silver Alert in helping locate missing older individuals (see Toone 2009), in lieu of rigorous program testing and consistent results, it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of Silver Alert. That said, the existing research shows promise, particularly when individuals are exposed to an educational video about Silver Alerts prior to identifying a missing older individual. More research on the effectiveness of Silver Alert, as well as its cost-effectiveness, is needed.

Additional comment from the Reviewer: without an evidence base built on rigorous testing and replicated evaluations, it is important to consider the extent to which Silver Alert’s public notification system impinges on older individuals’ privacy and rights. Exposing older individuals to this type of media attention makes an already vulnerable population more vulnerable. Thus, if Silver Alert is going to be used, caution needs to be exercised to ensure older individuals’ needs for safety and protection are met.

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Assessor: Larissa Kowalski, University of Western Ontario

Larissa Kowalski completed her B.A in Sociology, with a concentration in social research, at the University of the Fraser Valley in 2018. She has worked as a research assistant and independent consultant for the Centre for Education and Research in Aging (CERA) and the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research. She began her M.A. in Sociology at the University of Western Ontario in 2018 and is researching police responses to missing older adults.

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Reviewer: Dr. Aiden Sidebottom, University College London

Dr. Sidebottom is a member of the Jill Dando Institute on Security and Crime Science at UCL. His research and expertise focuses on missing persons, policing, problem-oriented policing and situational crime prevention, among other topics.

​Suggested Readings:

  • Gier, V. S. 2019. Recognition of a Missing Person in a Mock Silver Alert in Relation to Individual Difference Factors and the Effect of an Educational Video. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

  • Gier, V.S. & Kreiner, D. 2019. he effect of educational priming on face recognition from a silver alert. The Journal of General Psychology

  • Gier, V.S., Kreiner, D.S. & Lampinen, J.M. 2017. Factors affecting recognitions of senior citizens in a Silver Alert. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology.

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