Last Thursday, when an elderly man with dementia from Richmond went missing, an the alert went out from the local RCMP to the media, but an email notification was also sent to a computer monitored by Michael Coyle and Sam Noh.
It was the first test for a system spurred by the disappearance Noh’s father Shin, who went missing from his Coquitlam home a year ago Sept. 18.
The pair, along with a third partner, had been working on their own alert system and website to help find Alzheimer’s and dementia patients as soon as they go missing called BC Silver Alert.
Coyle, a member of Coquitlam Search and Rescue, said an hour after the Richmond man went missing he got the first email alert.
“I looked at it, it’s real, it’s a real silver alert,” he recalled.
The website, which they’ve also referred to as a citizen silver alert, went into action sending out alerts on social media.
Fortunately, the man was found safe and sound a couple hours later.
Coyle explained the project came together after he met with Noh one day and proposed setting up a website that would essentially aggregate the alerts already sent out by police through Facebook and Twitter.
While the alerts are automated, he said it still takes a person to filter out the missing person alert to determine if the file is indeed a missing Alzheimer’s or dementia patient.
He noted the website is using information already provided to the public by the various police agencies.
The two had grown tired of waiting for the government to set up its own Silver Alert system, and wanted to start something on their own.
“This is our way to say, ‘Look, something has to be done and we’re going to do a little bit,’” Coyle told the Tri-Cities NOW.
The long-time SAR member said the Noh search inspired him to get something in place for patients who wander, pointing out he’s worked on searches where the subject will be found dead in the middle of the city.
“This has a small chance of alerting more people to the missing person, and we hope it puts the pressure on the various levels of government to pick it up,” Coyle said, adding the website does carry a small cost for web hosting, but otherwise is volunteer based.
“I’m only involved because my experience with SAR convinced me of the need to do this, so I don’t have to be in charge of another search where someone dies.”
In February, Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson brought forward a private member’s bill calling on the government to implement a Silver Alert program.
Like the Amber Alert used for missing children, the bill would create a program that would alert the public of a missing person, likely a senior, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of cognitive impairment.
Noh said he has been meeting with various government agencies and his local MLA about setting up an official Silver Alert program, but he wasn’t making much headway.
He said the government appears more interested in an educational preventative program, but he argued there’s nothing in place when the person walks out the door and wanders.
So Noh decided to come up with own silver alert.
“It’s just one tool, it’s not the ultimate solution,” he said.
“What really needs to happen is the government needs to make a decision. That’s the tough part.”
Though Noh acknowledged there are challenges in setting up a true Silver Alert, he said he hopes the website he and Coyle started will help show the government it’s not all that difficult to implement a system.
“I think we have something awesome to work with, we have to expand it and let everyone know about it,” he said.
Coquitlam-Port Moody MLA Linda Reimer said she’s pleased to see the citizen silver alert, but suggested implementing a provincial amber alert isn’t that simple.
She said the government is watching how the Silver Alert program is working in Ontario, but any program in B.C. requires more time, discussion and consultation.
“I believe there is a need for something, it’s just a matter of something that will work for all stakeholders and something that would be most effective for those types of patients,” Reimer said, adding a silver-alert system should probably have a more local focus than the amber alerts for children.
A year after Shin Noh left his house near Lansdowne Drive and Guildford Way for his morning walk on Sept. 18, 2013, his whereabouts remain a mystery.
In the days and weeks that followed, the community rallied and formed large search parties, scouring the Tri-Cities and other parts of the Lower Mainland, acting on possible sightings.
On Saturday (Sept. 20), the family will be marking the somber anniversary with a community walk in his name.
The first annual Walk for Shin aims to raise awareness and donations for Alzheimer’s and the citizen silver alert.
The walk will follow some of the route Shin is believed to have taken when he went missing toward Burke Mountain.
The walk event will begin at 9 a.m. at Eagle Ridge United Church on Glen Drive. For more information go to www.shin-noh.ca.
To learn more about the citizen silver alert go to bcsilveralert.ca.
In the year that’s passed, Noh said his family is coping in different ways, and moving forward but not moving on.
While from time-to-time he’ll go searching for his dad, he admits he’s run out of places to look.
What the family wants now is closure.
“I think about my dad everyday,” he told the Tri-Cities NOW.
“When I’m driving, I’m looking at faces, that’s just part of my life now.”