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County News Service

Photos: Sally Estabrook

September 25, 2015 (San Diego)--Bob Estabrook walked into the back of his RV to clean up one afternoon last fall. He and his wife, Sally, were staying at a campground near Julian. Within 15 minutes, Sally, who was 75 years old and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, had disappeared.

Her body was found seven weeks later during an extensive search, Bob Estabrook recalled. “It was about the most excruciating time in my life,” he said.

Estabrook and County officials are hopeful that a newly expanded use of the region’s mass notification system, AlertSanDiego, announced at a news conference Thursday, will help locate seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and others who are reported missing and in danger.

The Sheriff’s Department and other local law enforcement agencies can now use the alert system to directly notify the public via text message  and email when a person with dementia or other cognitive impairment, or with a developmental disability, goes missing in the region. The public can sign up for the alerts at no cost by visiting ReadySanDiego.

The broadened use of the alerts is the latest initiative from The Alzheimer’s Project, a County-led effort created last year to find a cure and help those with the disease and their caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that six in 10 people with dementia will at one point wander.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob said that the County had been looking for a tool similar to AMBER Alerts, which are effective in notifying the public about missing and endangered children.

“AMBER Alerts are about saving the lives of children,” Jacob said. “The kind of alert we are going to be announcing today is about saving the lives of those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. We want to try to make sure that we find them alive and that they’re safe.”

Notifications will be issued through the AlertSanDiego system, which was created to let residents about wildfires and other emergencies. The system can deliver messages via text or email, using cell phone numbers and email addresses registered by the public, and it allows law enforcement agencies to issue alerts in targeted geographic areas.

“We can really zone in on that area where someone is missing,” letting the public know, this is going on in your neighborhood, in your community, said Supervisor Ron Roberts, who suggested investigating the technology during an Alzheimer’s Project presentation by Supervisor Jacob. “We can get to them.”

Sheriff Bill Gore said many times during law enforcement searches for missing people, someone has suggested how helpful it would be to have an instant communication system to help those at risk, and ultimately save lives.

“That’s what the new alert system is all about,” Gore said.

County officials encourage residents to sign up to receive AlertSanDiego notifications. More than 375,000 cell phone and email addresses are already registered with the program.

Estabrook praised the work the Sheriff’s Department did in searching for his late wife. He emphasized how critical timing is when it comes to locating missing people, and said he hopes and prays that another family does not have to go through what he did.

“I hope from the bottom of my heart that everyone will become part of this program,” he said. “I know it will save lives.”


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