Friday, August 1, 2008

Sheriff hopes project will be a lifesaver


In hopes of providing a new level of security and protection for those suffering from memory and judgment disorders, Sheriff Bill Brown unveiled Project Lifesaver on Thursday, a program designed to assist law enforcement with finding missing people.

At the heart of the project is a lightweight, battery-powered wrist or ankle band that emits a silent radio signal. Families can notify sheriff’s deputies when a loved one goes missing and authorities can use a mobile antenna to find the missing person.
“Where previously a full-scale search for a missing person suffering from a memory disorder might last for days and require extensive public safety resources, now it may be concluded in just a matter of minutes,” Sheriff Brown said.
The program is targeted at those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other memory disorders that may lead them to wander from their home.
Sheriff Brown said after a person suffering from a memory disorder goes missing for more than 24 hours, the chance of survival decreases by 50 percent. On the other hand, of the 20 agencies statewide and hundreds across the country using Project Lifesaver, he said the program has a 100 percent success rate in finding those fitted with the small device.
“Not only is it effective,” he said, “but it can save our field personnel hundreds of hours.”
The small, gray device attaches to a wristband and continually emits a unique radio signal that can be picked up by a handheld antenna up to a mile away. Antennas mounted on aircraft can locate the signal up to seven miles away, authorities said.
Giving a demonstration of the system, members of the sheriff’s search and rescue team said the mobile locator is incredibly precise in narrowing down the location of the wristband.
Neil Palt, who volunteers on the search and rescue team in the North County, said during a training session he had to track down the device buried behind a tree a mile away.
“I found it in 20 minutes,” he said.
Swinging the handheld antenna array from side to side, he demonstrated how the pitch emitted by the tracking device changes significantly when it is pointed toward the wristband.
“You move it a few degrees and you can hear a distinct difference,” Palt said.
Rick Sten, a member of the search and rescue team in the South County, expects the device to be a big help in tracking down missing people.
During the most recent search, when an 86-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease went missing from the Mesa, he said crews simply had to start from the last place she was seen and use rescue dogs in an attempt to track her down.
“You just end up knocking on doors and hunting around,” Sten said.
That woman eventually found her way back home nearly two days after she went missing.
Sgt. Brad McVay, the sheriff’s community services director who is helping head the program, said he expects to see recovery times for people who have the Project Lifesaver device and go missing locally to fit in the national average of approximately 20 minutes.
The voluntary program is open to family members and caregivers who wish to sign up a loved one. While there is no cost to enroll, Sheriff Brown said participants will have to pay an annual cost of $300 related to the wristbands and batteries, which must be replaced monthly.
Scholarships are available to those with financial difficulties thanks to individual donations as well as contributions from Lions Clubs International, authorities said. More information is available by calling 571-1540 or visiting
Sheriff Brown said while the program is expected to save plenty of personnel time, he is more proud of its ability to offer reassurance and a sense of security to families and caregivers.
“I expect Project Lifesaver’s success to be measured not only by a savings in taxpayer dollars, but also by something priceless — the value of lives saved as a result of this worthwhile project,” he said.

No comments: