Project Lifesaver – An Electronic Technology Program to Locate Missing Persons

What is it?
Project Lifesaver (PLS) is a national corporation headquartered in Virginia. It produces radio-frequency transmitters and receivers to enable tracking of people suffering from various brain ailments including Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Down’s syndrome, and traumatic brain injuries.

In 2007, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s office, in conjunction with the Alzheimer Society of Washington (ASW), adopted PLS to aid in the search and rescue of missing Alzheimer’s patients. The sheriff’s office purchased five sets of receiver equipment to track the transmitter bracelets purchased by ASW for placement on affected individuals.

How does it work?
Each one-ounce bracelet has a unique frequency that emits a signal twenty-four hours a day and is associated with a particular individual. The effective range of transmission is approximately a mile and a half. 

If or when a PLS participant goes missing, the Search and Rescue coordinator (a deputy sheriff) responds to the place where the individual was last seen and attempts to locate the signal from the bracelet. If he can do so, the individual is quickly found and returned to a safe environment. If he cannot hear the signal, he calls for the assistance of trained search and rescue volunteers who will search in a spiral fashion away from the point where the individual was last seen. When the signal is detected, they converge and locate the individual.

Nationally, the average search time for an Alzheimer’s patient drops from twelve hours to about thirty minutes using this technology. When you think of a ninety-pound, eighty-year-old grandmother outside in twenty degree weather in her nightgown, this reduction in search time can easily mean the difference between life and death.

Why not use GPS technology instead of radio frequency technology?
GPS is a marvelous tool that, in certain cases, is very useful for locating people. The downside of GPS is that it needs to “see” the GPS satellites to function. Depending upon where an Alzheimer’s patient may wander, a GPS signal could be shielded. For example, a concrete culvert would cut off GPS systems, but a radio frequency transmission would still be able to be detected. Also, GPS usually does not function inside of a building, but radio signals will penetrate the building’s walls and can be detected from the outside.

If you prefer a GPS device, they are easy to find on the internet at such places as pocketfinder.com, brickhousesecurity.com, and mobilehelp.com.

How do I get started?
To have someone enter the program, we require an extensive “Personal Data Questionnaire” to be filled out by the primary caregiver of the individual entering the program. It includes helpful information such as physical description, personality and general temperament, background history, and emergency contacts. We also require two photographs: one head-on and one profile (we are able to obtain these if you cannot). Lastly, the primary caregiver must sign a contract and pay the one-time initial fee of $300.

Once we have all of the necessary documentation to create the participant’s profile (which is copied and sent to the Whatcom County sheriff’s department), we place the tracking bracelet on either the wrist or ankle of the participant. We are able to come to you if you cannot come to us. In the event that the participant wanders, the caregiver is instructed to call 9-1-1 and request the Whatcom County sheriff search and rescue deputy and explain that the participant is missing but has a tracking device on their person. Search and rescue takes it from there.

Battery Changing:
Once a month or every sixty days depending on the type of transmitter (we use three different types that are roughly identical but require different types of batteries that have different life-spans), a team of two from ASW will come out and change the battery. We bill $45 quarterly for this service. We also provide a battery-checker and ask that the device’s battery be checked on a daily basis. If a battery has expired before our scheduled visit, simply notify the office and we will come change it.