State Rep. Willhite visits Seagull Services to discuss The Purple Alert

Thursday, July 8, 2021

State Rep. Matt Willhite made a visit to Seagull Services on Wednesday to talk about The Purple Alert, new legislation he co-sponsored that lets first responders know when they’re looking for an individual with cognitive or developmental disabilities.
Leaders from several of Palm Beach County’s agencies that serve individuals with developmental disabilities, including The Arc of Palm Beach County and Palm Beach Habilitation, gathered with those from Seagull to discuss The Purple Alert and talk with Willhite about the individuals with developmental disabilities they serve.
The Purple Alert legislation, signed recently by the governor, triggers a special alert when a person with cognitive or developmental disabilities goes missing.  It covers a broad segment of individuals not covered by either the Amber Alert for endangered children or Silver Alert for missing seniors.

“This is going to fill that gap,” said Willhite, a Democrat from Wellington. “I think it’s a big deal because its legislation that if someone is in trouble, every person in the state of Florida that has a cell phone can be notified.

The Purple Alert is designed to work in similar fashion to the well-known Amber Alert for endangered children and Silver Alert for missing seniors. While many adults with developmental disabilities, cognitive disabilities or brain injuries could be endangered if they went missing, they fall outside of the parameters for either the Amber Alert or the Silver Alert because of their ages. The Purple Alert allows first responders and the community to know that they’ll be looking for an individual with a developmental disability who may not be able to communicate clearly.

“We’re honored to have Rep. Willhite visit with us and meet in person some of the individuals who could benefit from The Purple Alert,” said Michael Cowan, Board Chair of Seagull Services.  “There’s no question that if some of our adult program participants were to wander away from their homes their lives would be in danger as they may not be able to ask for help or communicate well with those who could help them,” Cowan said. 

Willhite co-sponsored the legislation with Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach. Both men are firefighters. Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, was responsible for the companion bill in the Florida Senate. 

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