As the publisher of Pittsburgh Senior News, I typically prefer to stay behind the scenes, doing my part to help older adults in our community. When I come across a program that may not be widely known and that I know will benefit my readers, I want to share it.
Recently I discovered a program called Premise Alert in a very personal way, and I also learned first hand how much our local police really do care about us as citizens and individuals. As it happened, an older family member living in my home got up in the middle of the night, left the house with his walker and made it to the top of our neighborhood hill. I was sound asleep and didn’t know this had occurred. One of our neighbors up the road heard him calling for help and called the police. When the police arrived, they didn’t know where he lived exactly but they noticed that my front door was wide open. The officer helped me get him into the house. They were so kind about this somewhat scary situation and they also calmed me down in the process.
Premise Alert Request Form
The next day, the same McCandless Township police officer came back to my house with a packet of information that included a Premise Alert Request Form that I could fill out to place my loved one on a Special Needs Registry. The form included information that would be helpful for emergency personnel to know when possibly responding to a crisis at my residence. The packet also included (among many other useful items and information) reflective stickers for my car and a residence sticker to place on my front door to alert first responders that someone within my home has special needs.
The officer explained to me that Premise Alert is for any county resident who may require additional assistance due to special needs during a police, fire or medical emergency. The information alerts the emergency dispatcher when a 911 call is made from that home. It could be something like your family member is hearing impaired, has an oxygen tank or, like in my case, has the potential to wander away from the residence. It helps you and it helps the police, so it’s a win-win.
“Whenever we have a circumstance like yours where the officer responds, they immediately give the packet to the family members,” McCandless Township Chief of Police David DiSanti, Sr. later told me. “Our officers carry them in their police cars. The form is very self-explanatory and easy to fill out.”
Thankfully, my family member’s issue was a temporary condition of delirium brought on by high blood sugar. He is doing much better now but we know it is always important to take precautions.
I further learned from Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Angela Kelley that the DA’s office distributes these forms to all the municipalities in the county so all police departments have them. “What’s nice is that you can either fill out the form online so you don’t even have to leave your house, or you can fill it out and take it to your local police department and have that personal interaction with your local police officers,” Angela pointed out.
Then I learned from Angela that Premise Alert is part of a larger program offered by law enforcement and other emergency responders. PROJECT LIVESAVER uses proven radio technology and specially trained search-and-rescue teams to find older adults enrolled in the program when they become lost. Allegheny District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr. sponsors this program free to Allegheny County residents.
Here’s how it works: A person enrolled in the program wears a small transmitter about the size of a wristwatch. It emits a unique tracking signal. If the person goes missing, search teams use their signal receiving equipment to track and locate the missing person. Any Allegheny County resident who is a caregiver can enroll on behalf of a person with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. It is also available to our local veterans who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and have a tendency to wander, run or escape from their residences. Please be aware that this program is not for individuals who live alone, reside in a group home, or operate a motor vehicle. All participants must be receiving uninterrupted supervised care from a caregiver 24 hours per day.
The program was spearheaded in Allegheny County by Shaler Township resident Jimmy Williams and stemmed from a personal need within his own family. Along with having a daughter, Madison, 9, Jimmy and his wife Tracy also have a son, Tyler, 8, who has autism and other special needs. The couple researched and discovered PROJECT LIFESAVER in a municipality in Virginia (the program is actually international). Jimmy took on the task of writing (and being awarded) a grant to upstart it in Allegheny County. With help from the Munhall Police Department and District Attorney Zappala’s office, the program was implemented in Allegheny County about five years.
Jimmy shared with PSN a story that illustrates the effectiveness of the program: “A couple days after Christmas a few years ago, a man disappeared from his apartment in Shadyside. He had some cognitive issues and by the time his wife realized he was missing, we had started our search. An hour into the search, we picked up a signal near Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville. He had wandered almost a mile and half from home. We found him sitting in a restaurant having coffee, unaware that anything was even wrong. We brought him home, and all’s well that ends well.”
Senior Justice Outreach
There are even more ways in which the DA’s office and our local police are working together to inform seniors in our community about the things that are critical to know. For more than a decade, DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has focused on the issue of elder abuse with a team of special prosecutors in his office. Recently, he chaired a statewide Committee on Elder Abuse and Neglect as part of a special State Supreme Court Task Force. From the findings of this task force, he concluded that more needed to be done, so he took action. Zappala appointed long-time Pittsburgh Senior Interests Director Dick Skrinjar to the position of Senior Justice Advocate—the first position of this type in the state and one of the few in the country.
“The DA’s office has a long track record of success protecting the rights of two of our community’s most vulnerable and victimized groups: children and women,” Skrinjar said. “Seniors are another high-risk category and have needs that require the same type of special attention. With the resources of the District Attorney for investigation and prosecution and the collaboration with local police, social services agencies, support providers, the courts and outreach into the community, we have a tremendous ability to bring justice to some of our most vulnerable community members. The days of perpetrators—whether they be individuals or institutions—taking advantage of, victimizing and marginalizing seniors and the impact on their lives of fraud abuse and neglect are over.”
These programs are all really good to know about. You may not need them right now but someday you may. As for myself, I want to personally thank the McCandless Township Police Department. Their officers went above and beyond to help my family and me that night. Sometimes we forget that our local police are our friends. They’re not just out there fighting crimes. They’re also protecting us and watching out for us.
For more information about any of these programs, contact Assistant District Attorney Angela Kelley in Allegheny District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr.’s office at (412) 350-3138 or email Akelley@Alleghenycountyda.us. To learn more, visit alleghenycountyda.us. To download the Premise Alert form, go to alleghenycounty.us/emergency-services/911/special-needs-registry.aspx.
By Lynn Webster For Pittsburgh Senior News
Feature photo caption: Officer Jimmy Miller of Munhall holds the radio device used to search and rescue program participants. Angela Kelley, Assistant District Attorney and Project Lifesaver Administrator shows the bracelet participants wear that sends out the tracking signal.