Project Lifesaver

LPSO is First in State to Join The New Search and Rescue Service

The LaSalle Parish Sheriff’s Office (LPSO) is the first in state to join with Project Lifesaver to provide a brand new search and rescue service to the parish.

Project Lifesaver is designed to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable individuals, those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, Downs Syndrome and any other cognitive condition that causes wandering.

“The main purpose of this program is to provide a piece of mind for the community and for those who have loved ones who suffer from cognitive conditions and tend to wander and become lost,” LPSO Detective Richard Smith, who is the administrator for the program said. “The program breaks a normal search where you have to call out the (local authorities and) fire department, who could spend days looking for the person. The national average time to locate a Project Lifesaver participant is 30 minutes.”

Project Lifesaver International (PLI) was established in 1999 and is committed to helping families quickly find loved ones who wander. Headquartered in Chesapeake, Va., Project Lifesaver works with local law enforcement agencies in more than 1,000 communities in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

LaSalle Parish Sheriff Scott Franklin said the LPSO’s partnership with Project Lifesaver is a positive move for parish residents.

“Having a special needs loved one is stressful in itself, much less having one that is prone to wander, so we are happy to introduce this program to help relieve stress on loved ones and caregivers as well as keep more of our citizens safe,” Franklin said. “We hope to put family members’ minds at ease that through this program we can find their loved ones who wander in a timely manner before something bad happens.”

According to PLI’s official website, over five million people in the USA have Alzheimer’s or related disorders and well over 50% of these people wander and become lost. A lost person with Alzheimer’s, Autism or other medical disorders represents a critical emergency and nearly half of those lost will die and/or may become injured if they are not located within 24 hours.

Project Lifesaver’s mission is to use state of the art technology in assisting those who care for victims of Alzheimer’s and other related metal dysfunctions disorders (ARMD) and victims who become lost. The project places radio transmitters on the individuals with ARMD. These transmitters assist loved ones and local emergency agencies in locating those who are lost.

PLI forms partnerships with local law enforcements and public safety organizations. Project Lifesaver deploys specially trained teams with the most reliable technology available to quickly locate and return wandering adults and children to their family members.

Smith said the program was brought to the parish through funding from Project Lifesaver.

“We received a grant that paid for the initial equipment, which includes three locaters, three transmitters and a year’s supply of batteries and other items needed for the transmitters,” Smith said. “The locators basically work from a radio signal that is specific to each transmitter. The locator uses that specific frequency to find the transmitter.”

PLI National Trainer Ron Wellborn, who is an officer with the Grand Ronde Tribal Police Department out of Oregon, recently conducted training for six LPSO personnel in the new electronic search and rescue program. The PTI training included use of the location equipment and how to gain the trust of and communicate with people who wander, as well as to ensure that caregivers are well versed in the program—all of which are essential to a successful rescue. Smith said five deputies were trained to operate the equipment and he was instructed as the in-office trainer.

Project Lifesaver emphasizes relationships between team members and the people who may wander before the need may arise for a rescue. Team members visit the home of the bracelet recipient to install the transmitter and change batteries monthly. Locating the person is only a part of the mission. The person who is lost may be disoriented, anxious or untrusting. The Project Lifesaver team members know how to approach the person, gain their trust and put them at ease for the trip home.

Clients enrolled in the service will wear a wristwatch-sized radio transmitter on their wrist or ankle. The transmitter constantly emits a Radio Frequency signal, which can be tracked regardless of where the person has wandered—even into a densely wooded area, a marsh, a concrete structure such as a garage or a building constructed with steel.

When a loved one goes missing, caregivers notify locally trained agencies and they are dispatched to the wanderer’s area. Using a mobile locator system, search crews are able to monitor the transmitter signal and locate the individual.

Smith said there are certain criteria to become involved with Project Lifesaver.

“There are specific requirements.  The participant must have one of the cognitive conditions as well as a 24-hour caregiver and no access to a vehicle,” Smith said. “For example, it can’t be someone who lives alone and still drives. Project Lifesaver is limited to a mile on the ground and 5-7 miles in the air, so if someone gets in a vehicle, they could be far out of range.”

Regarding the cost of Project Lifesaver, Smith said at this time, some Project Lifesaver programs do charge a monthly fee to pay for the transmitters and the batteries, but that other programs rely on donations from the community.  He said if the area program receives enough donations, the fee could be waived. This is a non-profit organization, so all the donations go to the equipment.

The service is currently available. Families and caregivers can contact the LPSO at 992-2151 for more information and to determine if their loved one is eligible for the program.