Officials with the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office spoke about Project Lifesaver at the Vesta/Meadows of Dan branch of the Patrick County Alzheimer’s Group, LLC on Aug. 16.
Project Lifesaver is a 501(c)(3) organization that is free for all county residents and uses radio tracking to locate at-risk individuals that have Alzheimer’s, dementia, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In his profession, Sheriff Dan Smith said nothing is worse than officers feeling like they are unable to help. “We do this because we want to be able to help someone and in turn help our community be safer,” he said.
Smith said the beauty of Project Lifesaver is that it allows officers to give people good news. “With this, we can tell somebody we’re going to help you to keep track of your loved ones and you don’t have to worry about them walking off and not being able to be located,” he said.
With Project Lifesaver, Deputy Roger Bell said those who are at a risk of wandering can be fitted with radio frequency transmitter monitor bracelets on their wrist or ankle, depending on preference. “Some people are great with it, they look at it like a watch or something. On their ankle, they can pull their sock over and they just kind of forget about it,” he said.
Bell said when it gets more challenging some people end up ripping or cutting the bracelets off, which requires deputies to work more closely with the families to ensure the individuals are safe.
Bell said officers can come to a home to attach a bracelet or individuals can come to the sheriff’s office. Once the bracelet is attached, the battery will last for 60-days until it needs to be replaced.
“You call us up and you tell us you need it, we’ll get it out to you. We’re not asking any questions,” he said.
Bell and other officers will show families and caregivers how to cut the band off, replace it with a new one, and change out the transmitter’s batteries. Officers also are willing to come out to replace the battery. Families also receive a device to check the battery’s power, which should be used every day.
“What that battery does is it is constantly sending out a beep every couple of seconds. You can’t hear it, and you won’t pick up on it until you have a receiver,” he said, adding the receiver needs to be dialed in to a patient’s specific frequency number to pick up where the beep is.
As it is a national program, numerous police departments use the same system. Bell said families and caregivers traveling with individuals wearing a bracelet should have their frequency numbers on hand in case they happen to wander off. If that happens, “you contact whatever local fire department or police department, whoever is that happens to have that, give them that code, where they were last seen, and they’ll track them down,” he said.
In the past Bell said the county had around 25 residents enrolled in the program. He estimates there are currently around two dozen people, including some with ASD, wearing the monitoring bracelets.
Because of the program, Bell said the national average of finding a missing individual is 30 minutes once officers arrive on scene.
If a person is reported missing, omni-directional antennas can be attached to the transmitter tracker and placed on patrol cars. “The antenna will go up to a quarter mile away. So, as we’re approaching the location where the person disappeared, we’ll go ahead and start driving towards it with that attached,” he said.
The county currently has three trackers, including one kept in the Ararat area.
Bell said once officers make contact with the family, they will detach the antennas from the police car and use hand-held transmitter trackers which have a one-mile range. “As long as they’re within a mile, you’ll hear that beep,” he said.
“If you have a lot of outside noise, if it’s a windy day or something like that you can hook up the earphone so we’re just listening to that to concentrate just on the sound and the signal,” he added.
Bell said if officers are still struggling to get a signal, the department can contact any agency that has a helicopter and attach the transmitter tracker to it. “A helicopter can go up to five miles to find them. So, even though we’re in a mountainous area, that makes a huge difference as far as tracking somebody down,” he said.
To register for the program, call the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office at (276) 694-3161 and ask for Bell, or call Smith at (276) 692-7012.
For more information about Project Lifesaver, go to www.projectlifesaver.org, or contact the Patrick County Alzheimer’s Group, LLC, at (276) 698-2901.