Skowhegan resident Nancy Dickson had been following her husband, John, by car, until they suddenly became separated.

“She got lost at a light, and when she went past the light, I couldn’t catch up to her to find out where she went,” said John Dickson, 72.

Given Nancy Dickson, 69, did not have her cellphone or medication and has dementia, state authorities issued a Silver Alert on May 17. She was found safe and well the next morning.

The search for Dickson, who was found on Madison Avenue in Skowhegan, was one of 20 Silver Alerts in Maine so far in 2021. The state is on pace to have the most alerts in one year.

Officials are not sure why Maine is trending toward a record number of Silver Alerts, especially so early in 2021, but believe increased awareness and promotion of the 11-year-old program may have a role.

“There’s nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb that would tell us the reasoning why,” said Brodie Hinckley, director of the state’s Consolidated Communications Center in Augusta. “The only thing that I can think if is because they’ve been so frequent, the more they get out there the more people use them.”

Silver Alerts are issued when a “confused adult with dementia or developmental disabilities is missing,” according to information from the state. Instituted in 2010 by the Maine State Police, Silver Alerts hit a record of 23 in 2020. With 20 already this year, including six in each of the past two months, the state record for most Silver Alerts will be reset in 2021.

Nationally, other states are seeing increased use of such an alert system, too. The American Silver Alert Coalition has reported 35 states and New York City have a Silver Alert program or something similar. Like Maine, Florida is also on pace this year to have a record number of Silver Alerts in 2021.

The state does not track specific data on the impact or efficacy of Silver Alerts that result in missing people being found, according to the Maine State Police.

The Dicksons were in the Lewiston-Auburn area to buy a vehicle on the day they became separated. Nancy Dickson was supposed to follow her husband, but they split paths in traffic.

After driving around the Lewiston-Auburn area and then to the their daughter’s house in Turner, John Dickson called the Skowhegan Police Department, which asked the state to issue a Silver Alert. A search ensued and Dickson was kept informed throughout the process.

“They called me and told me she was stopped in Bridgton getting fuel, but she drove off and they didn’t catch her,” John Dickson said. “At 7 a.m. the next morning, the police were sitting in my doorway and said: ‘Good news. We found your wife.'”

The criteria for Silver Alerts in Maine is set to expand to a larger demographic, including missing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Passed and signed into law last month, L.D. 28 updates the program to include the larger group of missing, endangered people.

Hinckley said he disputes notions that COVID-19 restrictions being lifted and more people getting out have increased the number of Silver Alerts in recent months.

Silver Alerts in Maine are issued when a law enforcement agency reaches out to the Bangor Regional Communication Center. For an alert to be initiated, there must have been an extensive local search first, Hinckley said.

“If we’re putting them out, people are noticing this is an option. It’s good and bad,” Hinckley said. “We want to get out that this is available for use, when it is needed.”

John Dickson said he was hesitant to ask local police to request the Silver Alert, but he knew he had to.

“Nothing but good,” Dickson said. “Their work was wonderful.”


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