By Taylor Boyd
Three members of the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office recently received training for the Project Lifesaver program.
Project Lifesaver is a 501(c)(3) organization that uses radio tracking to locate at risk individuals that have Alzheimer’s, dementia, or autism.
Felecia Haymore, administrative staff specialist at the sheriff’s office, said six are now for the project.
“There are some of our officers that know how to work the old device that we had. They’re just not trained on the new one,” she said.
After completing the program training, they will serve as instructors for others within in the county on the program.
Deputy Roger Bell said once individuals are identified as in need, a band with a radio frequency transmitter will be placed their wrist or ankle, depending on their preference.
“This basically sends out a signal that goes continually for two months, 60 days. That signal has to be replaced with batteries every two months,” he said.
Officers show the caregiver how to cut the band off, replace it with a new one, and change out the transmitter’s batteries. A device to check to see if the battery is working will also be given to the caregiver to use to every day.
Bell said officers also occasionally stop by to check on the patient and caregiver and ensure the equipment is working.
If a patient is reported missing, the first thing officers do is figure out when and where the person was last seen.
“We then try to figure out what the transmitter number is, because everyone is going to be a little different. Then an officer will get the transmitter and set it to whatever that happens to be” to help find the band’s signal, Bell said.
Omni-directional antennas attached to the transmitter tracker will then be placed on police cars, he said.
“As we are riding to the scene, this antenna is checking about a quarter- mile in any direction of the vehicle. As we get closer to the area, we’ll slow down some, and we might pick up a signal before we even get to where we are going to,” he said.
Once a signal is picked up, Bell said a hand-held transmitter tracker will be used. These devices have a one-mile range, depending on the frequency and beep when pointed in the direction of the band’s transmitter.
He added that things like mountainous terrain or metal objects can deflect the signal, which makes tracking the patient difficult at times.
Bell said once officers arrive on the scene, it typically takes 30 minutes to complete the search.
In the almost 16-year history of the program in the county, all the project patients have been found alive, Bell said, adding that the great thig is that the equipment rarely must be used.
“But when it is used, it is very successful and it does work,” he said.
Haymore said the equipment has been used a handful of times in the County Line Road area and a few times in the Ararat and Meadows of Dan communities.
Former Department of Social Services worker and program trainee Debbie Tatum said local authorities are ahead of their time because the program has been used in the county for such a long time.
“It has been used, and it has been successful in finding people,” she said.
The transmitter can also be used to find bands from others outside of the county.
“If they came from North Carolina and they were lost up here, then we just call them down there and get the code and put it in the system,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Office also was recently awarded a more than 6,000 grant from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) to help with the program. The first $3,000 was used to purchase a new transmitter and a few of the ‘wanderer’ bracelets.
Bell said the department is currently determining areas most needed for the other half of the grant.
The program’s primary goal is to get bracelets on more people that need them. It is completely free for county residents.
To register for the program, call the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office at (276) 694-3161 and ask for Garry Brown or Felecia Haymore.