U.P. sheriff gets gear to track wandering residents

Daily Press

Escanaba — Tracking technology is now available to search and rescue personnel to help find residents who wander due to cognitive or neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism and Down syndrome.

The Delta County Sheriff’s Office purchased the tracking gear from Project Lifesaver International, which uses technology to locate an individual who wanders and is equipped with a radio transmitter wristband, according to the Daily Press of Escanaba.

Tate Thompson, director of the Delta County Search and Rescue Team, attended the Train the Trainer course last week offered in Escanaba by Project Lifesaver International. Thompson is now certified to teach other rescuers and family members of program participants about the tracking program.

“When needed, surrounding participating counties can also use their equipment to help us find our people,” said Thompson, explaining there are both vehicle-mounted and hand-held tracking units.

Thompson was trained by St. Croix County Deputy Neil Johnson from Hudson, Wisconsin, who is an approved instructor with Project Lifesaver International. The program started in 1999 at the Search and Rescue Company of the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, said Johnson.

“Project Lifesaver is a program for at-risk wanderers, people who don’t realize they need help or can’t ask for help,” he said.

When the time comes for enrollment, the appropriate residents and caregivers will be required to complete documentation and obtain some training. Residents enrolled in the program will wear a small personal radio transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking frequency signal. If an enrolled resident goes missing, the caregiver would notify 911.

Trained emergency response teams would go to the wanderer’s area and use a tracking device to connect with the individual’s specific frequency.

Most who wander are found within a few miles from home, said Johnson. With the Project Lifesaver technology, search times are drastically reduced from hours and days to minutes. Recovery times for individuals on the program can average about 30 minutes — 95 percent less than standard operations.

The program is offered locally through county residents, social services organizations, businesses and foundations.

Delta County Sheriff Ed Oswald said his office has discussed bringing this technology to the county for a while.

“Over the last year, (recently) retired Sheriff Gary Ballweg and I made searching for funds to pay for the program our top priority under special operations projects. Because of the great community we live in, $10,000 was received in about seven months. We are happy that Project Lifesaver will be fully operational by January 2015, and we will inform the community when the program is ready to accept enrollments.”