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Bracelet can be a ‘Lifesaver’

by Tom Chillemi

The Project Lifesaver system uses a transmitter worn on the wrist. A receiver antenna and monitor are used to find lost persons.  (Photo by Tom Chillemi)
The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office now has a radio transmitter and receiver system that can locate patients who are likely to become lost, such as those with Alzheimer’s.

“Bringing loved ones home” has been Project Lifesaver’s motto since it was founded in 1999 in Chesapeake. Since then it has become an internationally-recognized program to locate at-risk people who may wander away from home.

The simple but effective system consists of a transmitter contained in a bracelet that is about the size of a wristwatch.

The receiver, called “Osprey,” is operated by a deputy and homes in on the transmitter. The beeps and chirps get louder as the searcher gets closer to the lost person. “You can almost run to them,” said deputy N.M. Sibley.

During a recent training demonstration, deputies found a subject who was moving around in a wooded area. The subject, who was trying to hide in a deep thicket, was found after just 18 minutes of searching.

The system’s receiver can track up to a mile on land. In a helicopter, its range is 5 to 7 miles.

Without Project Lifesaver, searches can take 24 hours and involve helicopters, ATVs, dogs, volunteers and cost $1,500 per man hour, said John Woodward, second lieutenant of the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office who was training Middlesex deputies last week.

In contrast, said Lt. Wood-ward, the wrist transmitters cost only $250. The Middlesex County Board of Supervisors purchased two receivers and two wrist transmitters for $5,600. That cost will be repaid in just a few hours of searching “the old way,” said Woodward.

Jack Fackler of Topping was instrumental in bringing Project Lifesaver to Middlesex. His wife Jane has Alzheimer’s and has walked away from home, which required a search. On one occasion it took hours to find her and the temperature dropped, requiring her to be treated for exposure. “This gives me great peace of mind,” said Mr. Fackler.
In Middlesex, the woods and water are dangers to those who are lost, noted Mr. Fackler.

Each transmitter has a different frequency. Persons who wear the transmitter can notify local law enforcement where they will be staying on vacation, in case they become lost.

Over 600 agencies are participating, said Woodward, “and the number goes up every day.”

Other jurisdictions with the Project Lifesaver can assist in searches, noted Woodward.

Locally, only Mathews and Essex counties do not have the Project Lifesaver system, said Mr. Fackler.

Mr. Fackler said that Hands Across Middlesex and local churches will assist system users with changing the transmitters’ batteries, which has to be done about once a month.

Deputy Tammy Ellis said anyone interested in participating in Project Lifesaver should contact the sheriff’s office at 758-2779.

posted 10.23.2008

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