By Rachel Dove
WILLIAMSON -For families who have children diagnosed with autism or an elderly relative who suffers from Alzheimer’s, the fear is always there that they may wander away from home or get lost while out in public. A program that is being implemented in Mingo County will hopefully provide reassurance and peace of mind for these families.
Project Lifesaver, a program founded in 2009, is a public safety program designed to locate people missing due to wandering. The primary mission of Project Lifesaver is to provide timely response to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism, and other related conditions or disorders.
The task of searching for wandering or lost individuals with Alzheimer’s, autism, Down Syndrome, dementia or other cognitive conditions is a growing and serious responsibility. Without effective procedures and equipment, searches can involve multiple agencies, hundreds of officers, countless man-hours and thousands of dollars. More importantly, because time is of the essence, every minute lost increases the risk of a tragic outcome.
Currently, more than 1,200 agencies in 45 states participate in the Project Lifesaver program, including state police, sheriffs, fire departments, public safety departments and other first responders. In most counties in West Virginia that participate, the Office of Emergency Services is the lead agency.
Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small, personal transmitter around their wrist or ankle. The transmitter emits an individual tracking signal that is capable of being tracked by specialized equipment. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies their local 911 center and a trained emergency team responds to the last known location of the client.
Most clients who wander away are found within a few miles of their home and search times have been reduced from hours and days to mere minutes. Recovery times for Project Lifesaver clients average 30 minutes or less, which is a staggering 95 percent drop from the time it takes to complete a standard search operation. To date, Project Lifesaver has rescued nearly 3,000 individuals.
The national average time and cost for a conventional search and rescue for Project Lifesaver is less than 30 minutes and they proudly hold a record of no fatalities or serious injuries involving those enrolled in the program who wandered away. Use of a helicopter dramatically increases the search range, enhancing an already effective ground search capability. Helicopter support is available for Project Lifesaver searches anywhere in the state of West Virginia.
Because the equipment itself will be purchased through the county commission and possible grants that may be available, the monthly maintenance cost to the client will be minimal.
A class will be taught in the near future in Mingo County, and will be attended by Interim Emergency Services Director Doug Goolsby, who was present at the Wednesday commission meeting, along with the Lincoln County coordinator for Project Lifesaver, Francis Holton.
Goolsby discussed the importance of getting this program in place to serve those who are in need in Mingo County. The time frame for the setup of the program in Mingo County is estimated at 2-3 months. Additional information will be made available to those whose family may need the services of Project Lifesaver.