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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 27, 2010

Measure would aid search for elderly

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lawmakers are considering a measure that would look into alerting the public when a senior citizen is missing, similar to the Maile Amber Alert system used for abducted children.

Last year alone, nearly 90 senior citizens in Hawai'i went missing, said Rep. John Mizuno, D-30th (Kamehameha Heights, Kalihi Valley, Fort Shafter). Mizuno, who authored the House measure that was deferred by the Senate, is confident that a revised measure will survive.

The new measure calls for establishing an unpaid task force to look into establishing some kind of alert system separate from the Maile Amber Alert system that is now used by the counties.

The initial measure that called for linking a so-called Silver Alert to the Amber Alert for children, was deferred by the Senate and did not receive the support of the police departments on Kaua'i, the Big Island and O'ahu and the state Attorney General.

"If you have 100 seniors missing every year, that's cause for concern," Mizuno said. "Shouldn't we have safeguards to protect them, and those numbers will rise as our population continues to age."

The AARP in Hawai'i generally supports these types of measures, said Bruce Bottorff, AARP Hawaii spokesman.

"The AARP believes that states should consider instituting this kind of measure with limitations that ultimately protect the privacy, the dignity, the independence and autonomy of the person who is the subject of the alert," Bottorff said. "There's a potential for the invasion of privacy and abuse."

The Attorney General's office, in testimony submitted at one of the hearings, said that unlike children whose parents can waive confidentiality for their children , senior citizens retain a right to privacy that needs to be respected "to the greatest extent possible."

The Amber Alert is a partnership among four county police departments, civil defense and local broadcasters. An alert is activated when police believe a child under the age of 17 has been abducted and is in danger of being harmed.

The Attorney General's office is concerned that sending out alerts on missing seniors may dilute the warning system for children, Mizuno said.