Two towns launch Operation Blue Angel for senior citizens

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Maplewood and South Orange Police departments, Senior Citizens Advisory committees, and SOMA Two Towns for All Ages recently announced the launch of Operation Blue Angel.

This safety program aims to aid older adults who are either older than 55 or medically impaired and are frequently alone. Operation Blue Angel gives emergency services quick access to a residence if the resident is unable to open the door.

Those who participate in the program will receive a small, free combination-controlled lockbox to store a spare key in. The key is provided by the resident, and the lockbox will only be accessible to the resident’s local police department; no one else will have the code. In the case of an emergency where the resident is unable to come to the door, police, the fire department or emergency medical services will be able to enter the home using the spare key.

“This is a wonderful service for the towns to offer older residents,” South Orange Senior Citizen Advisory Committee Chairwoman Tonia Moore said.

Joan Crystal, a member of the Maplewood Senior Advisory Committee, said Operation Blue Angel eliminates Maplewood seniors’ fear of being unable to reach help in case of illness or injury.

“This lockbox becomes a lifeline in such circumstances. I would strongly recommend that Maplewood seniors living alone give serious consideration to participating in this program,” Crystal said.

The program also allows emergency police access without damaging the home, which is especially important in cases where they are performing welfare checks and in cases where the person will continue to live at home.

“Operation Blue Angel is a fabulous opportunity for our seniors to have an added level of support from our community. This volunteer program will allow seniors enhanced peace of mind when it comes to safety in their homes,” South Orange Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton said, adding that she is “proud to be supporting it.”

Participation is completely voluntary, free, and may be stopped or started at any time. Similar programs have already been implemented in several New Jersey towns, including Montclair, Princeton, Raritan and Franklin Lakes. Operation Blue Angel is largely the effort of collaboration between the towns’ health aging initiative, SOMA Two Towns for All Ages and the two towns’ police departments.

SOMA Two Towns for All Ages is funding this program. The age-friendly initiative, coordinated by Cathy Rowe, recognizes the importance and interests of seniors in Maplewood and South Orange and works to empower residents to “age in place.” The initiative’s recent focus has been on housing. According to Rowe, SOMA Two Towns is “looking at a wide range of ways to help people stay in their homes.” Operation Blue Angel is a tool in furthering that initiative.

Interested, qualifying residents should contact their local police departments. South Orange residents can call the South Orange Police Department at 973-763-3000 and leave a message for the Community Policing Unit; Maplewood residents can call the Maplewood Police Department at 973-762-3400 and ask for Community Policing at ext. 7913. The resident can then make an appointment with a police officer to talk about Operation Blue Angel and set up the lockbox. They will also be able to discuss other safety programs for older community members, like Register Ready and the File of Life.