Project Lifesaver International works alongside public safety agencies to find missing people in a timely manner to prevent injury or loss of life. The program provides participants with a bracelet that transmits a signal to a receiver, allowing safety officials to locate a missing person within 15 to 30 minutes, compared to the average search time of nine hours without a bracelet.
Police Chief Chris Carden said there is a tremendous need for Project Lifesaver in the Sylacauga community.
“Just last week, we searched for an 80-year-old dementia patient for nearly five hours,” Carden said. “Sgt. Ryan Gaither finally located the man less than a fourth of a mile from his house sitting inside the cab of a truck at a gas station. Had the gentleman had the bracelet, we could have found him in minutes. Fortunately for him, his family and us, he wasn’t injured.”
The police department, which has responded to 128 calls for missing Alzheimer’s patients since 2008, is partnering with the Alabama Department of Public Safety State Trooper Aviation Unit to provide the service. Carden said they hope to have the program running in Sylacauga in about three months.
State Aviation Unit chief pilot Lee Hamilton and Cpl. Kent Smith, tactical flight officer and state coordinator for Project Lifesaver, demonstrated the program at the police department last week.
Smith said searches can be handled by local emergency services nine times out of 10; however, if a person wanders outside the ground range of the antenna, the state unit can respond and locate the signal from a helicopter.
“The person on the ground will go to their house, take the antenna, make a 360-degree turn, and when you hear the first little chirp, which is a VHF transmission, we know right then we’ve got them,” Smith said. “If they don’t find them or they’re outside of their range, they call us.”
Each bracelet costs $300 and monthly battery replacements are about $2, but the state agency works diligently to provide the supplies at no cost to those who need assistance. Smith said they are working to expand the program to the state-funded realm.
“We’re trying to make it not about state troopers or local police and sheriff’s departments,” he said. “We’re going to try to make this thing grow wings and allow it to build momentum. Once it becomes a platform at a governmental level, it has a lot more funding and a lot more push to make it a statewide, continuously-funded program.”
Smith said State Troopers became involved with Project Lifesaver when search numbers for Alzheimer’s patients skyrocketed about two years ago.
“It’s exactly what they forecasted it would do because the Baby Boomer generation is now in their 60s and 70s, and that makes up a large portion of the aging population,” he said.
About 80,000 people in Alabama have Alzheimer’s and 5.2 million nationwide, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Smith said 59 percent of patients across the country will wander, and 75 percent of those will wander repeatedly.
Of the 36,000 individuals who wander annually, 36 percent are never found. The Project Lifesaver system, however, has a 100 percent success rate of locating those wearing a working bracelet.
“Once we hear that chirp, they’re found,” Smith said. “That is a life-saving chirp. Then it’s just a matter of pinpointing where they are.”
Smith said this program is the most effective cost-wise and in locating individuals.
“If we knew of a better option, we’d be pitching it, but this is known to work,” he said. “It works for us, and we know it will for you and every community in the state of Alabama.”
Coordinated by Officer James Wimmer, Sylacauga’s Project Lifesaver will begin accepting applications and applying bracelets once the department has completed training. Carden said they are ready to move forward with the program.
“This is a win-win, and more importantly, this is a ministry,” he said. “We have some need right here in the community, and this is something we need to grab hold of.”
For more information, contact the State Trooper Aviation Unit at 334-242-4055.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.