Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Project Could Be a 'Lifesaver' for Wanderers; Chatham County's New System Uses Transmitter to Find Missing People

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Project Could Be a 'Lifesaver' for Wanderers; Chatham County's New System Uses Transmitter to Find Missing People

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL ATKINS

SAVANNAH - Deputy Jared Stevens darted across a windswept expanse near the Chatham County Sheriff's Department complex, led by a handheld network of metal antennas.

Like a bloodhound catching a scent, the strange contraption blurted out a series of chirps that grew louder as the lawman neared a grungy storage shed in the middle of the field, several hundred yards from where he began.

There, next to a portable toilet behind the shed, was the object of Stevens' pursuit - a small bracelet designed to be worn by patients with Alzheimer's disease or autism and others prone to wandering.

"The transmitter sends out a radio signal, and the closer we get, the louder the tone gets," the deputy explained after the practice search last week, which took less than six minutes. "I think this will really come in handy."

The system - called Project Lifesaver - is due to go live in Chatham County later this summer. Last week, sheriff's deputies were undergoing classroom and field training by instructors from the Suffolk [Va.] Department of Fire & Rescue.

The equipment, recently purchased with about $12,000 raised by county employees, works like this: Potential wanderers wear special bracelets that emit radio frequencies. Those signals, much like sonar readings, are picked up by receivers that all sheriff's deputies will be trained to use.

On the ground, the signal-reception range is about a mile. A helicopter can track the wanderer from 5 to 7 miles away.

"It's been great," sheriff's Sgt. James Moore said of the week's training. "It's amazing to see that just putting a radio transmitter on someone's arm is so effective at locating somebody's who's just wandered off."

Project Lifesaver designers boast a 100 percent success rate and a national average find-time of about 30 minutes.

Given some recent history, that's a good thing for Chatham County.

In March, Alzheimer's sufferer Doris Langford, 85, left her Garden City home late one night. …

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