Willhite Visits Seagull Services To Discuss The Purple Alert

State Rep. Matt Willhite (center) during his visit to Seagull Services.

State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) made a visit to Seagull Services on Wednesday, June 23 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 the Palm Beach Habilitation Center, 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 Gov. Ron DeSantis, 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 the Silver Alert for missing seniors.

“This is going to fill that gap,” Willhite said. “I think it’s a big deal because it’s 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 other alert systems. While many adults with developmental disabilities, cognitive disabilities or brain injuries could be endangered if they go 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.”

Willhite co-sponsored the legislation with State Rep. Joe Casello (D-District 90). Both men are firefighters. State Sen. Lori Berman (D-District 31) was responsible for the companion bill in the Florida Senate.

Seagull Services is a private, nonprofit social service agency that is dedicated to facilitating improvement in the quality of life of developmentally challenged children and adults. In addition, it serves those who require support to overcome other social and educational barriers to success in their work and personal lives. Seagull offers advocacy and a variety of educational, social and vocational programs designed to encourage achievement, self-reliance and economic independence. For more information, visit www.seagull.org.