What is a purple alert in Florida, and why is it needed? Here's what you need to know

Florida’s Purple Alert Plan is the latest color added to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement emergency alert system in 2022.

The Florida Purple Alert is a system designed to help locate missing adults who have a mental or cognitive disability that does not stem from Alzheimer's disease or dementia-related disorders, brain injuries, intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The alert notifies the public using email or text alerts throughout the state, with a focus on the area where the person was last seen.

Active Florida alerts: Find all active alerts here

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This system encourages the public to assist in the search for the missing individual and facilitates a coordinated response from the community.

The proposal was sponsored by two Democrats from Boynton Beach: Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Joseph Cassello. Gov. Ron DeSantis last year authorized the new alert system. The FDLE states the Florida Purple Alert also applies to missing individuals with a brain injury or emotional disability that are not related to substance abuse.

When did the Purple Alert program begin in Florida?

In a July Palm Beach Post report, Berman said via email the idea was spurred by the 2018 death of Joshua Marshall, a 30-year-old Port St. Lucie man. Berman said Marshall was non-verbal and autistic and wandered from his home. He was reported missing and endangered.

While he was seen at a Port St. Lucie 7-Eleven, no one knew he was missing or in need of help. He was found dead in a pond in Port St. Lucie soon after. Berman said a friend of Marshall's family came to her team on the family’s behalf with the idea for the legislation.

Florida’s Purple Alert Plan was established by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 1, 2021, with an effective date of July 1, 2022.

Florida's Purple Alerts are meant to protect adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Florida's Purple Alerts are meant to protect adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

How does the Purple alert get activated?

According to the FDLE website, there are multiple activation steps and criteria local law enforcement agencies must follow before issuing an alert.

Purple alert criteria

  • The person is 18 years of age or older and does not qualify for a state-level Silver Alert.

  • An investigation determined the missing person:

    • Has any combination of the following: an intellectual or developmental disability, brain injury; or another physical, mental, or emotional disability that is not related to substance abuse

    • Does not have Alzheimer’s disease or a dementia-related disorder

  • The law enforcement agency’s investigation concluded that the disappearance poses a credible threat of immediate danger or serious bodily harm to the missing person and they can only be returned to safety through law enforcement intervention

  • There is a detailed description of the missing person suitable for distribution

  • The agency entered the missing person into the Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC)?

  • The law enforcement agency of jurisdiction recommend activation

Purple alert activation steps

  • The local law enforcement agency must enter the missing person into FCIC/NCIC.

  • The local law enforcement agency must notify media outlets in their area and/or surrounding jurisdictions.

  • Once the above steps have been completed, the local law enforcement agency may request a Purple alert by calling the FDLE Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) at 1-888-356-4774.

  • The FDLE will ensure that the information is broadcast via dynamic highway message signs when applicable and via email/text through sign-up by public citizens and other resources.

Only law enforcement agencies can request activation of a Purple alert. To report a missing person, please contact your local police department or sheriff’s office first, then contact MEPIC at 1-888-FL MISSING (356-4774).

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How long does the Purple alert stay active?

The FDLE says the local Law Enforcement Agency will determine the status of the alert, but generally, the alert stays active until the missing person is recovered. If a Purple alert is activated and the missing person is in an identified vehicle, Department of Transportation road signs will be activated and remain active for a maximum of six hours.

How can you sign up to receive alerts?

To receive AMBER, Missing Child, Purple or Silver Alerts, go to the Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse.

Once an alert is issued by FLDE, a flyer is sent to your home computer, cellphone or any other email device.

What are the Florida alert colors?

Florida uses various alert systems to notify the public of missing or endangered people.

AMBER alerts warn of a child abduction while Silver alerts are used in the event of a missing elderly person with mental deterioration. Blue alerts are used when someone kills or seriously injures a law enforcement officer and flees the scene.

How can you help during a Purple alert?

The FDLE says the public plays an important role in the rescue of missing persons. When you see an alert, FDLE says to make a note of the description of the person and any additional information included.

If you see the vehicle or the missing person you should immediately call 911 or *FHP (347) to respond. They should make note of the person’s whereabouts, and if applicable, the vehicle tag, direction of travel and location such as highway, street, city and county.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Florida purple alert: What is purple alert, why is it needed?