Free Tracking Devices for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Available

July 31, 2019

For many families whose loved ones have conditions like autism, dementia, or other types of developmental or cognitive disabilities, there exists the constant fear that these individuals might wander away and become lost. This is because individuals with developmental disabilities and cognitive challenges are highly prone to what’s known as wandering or elopement. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten patients with dementia will wander. And a recent parent survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that about half of children and youth with autism-spectrum disorders have wandered at least once. Of those children, one in four were missing long enough to cause concern and were most commonly in danger of drowning or traffic injury.

Project Lifesaver

It’s for the above reasons that families are increasingly searching for tracking devices for individuals with developmental disabilities. Fortunately for individuals and families in Sussex County, these devices really do exist—along with a program designed around them that is administered by the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office. Known as Project Lifesaver, the program is actually a nationwide initiative that was developed specifically to locate individuals with developmental or cognitive disabilities. Created by a nonprofit of the same name, Project Lifesaver provides law enforcement, fire and rescue groups, families, and caregivers with the tools they need to quickly locate individuals who have wandered and return them home safely.

Project Lifesaver provides tracking devices for individuals with developmental and/or cognitive disabilities who are prone to wandering. The devices are unobtrusive, waterproof transmitter bracelets that may be worn on the wrist or ankle, and each one sends out a unique radio signal. When an individual enrolled in the program goes missing, the caregiver or family notifies the sheriff’s office, and a trained rescue team is deployed to locate the individual.

Precise Tracking with Radio Technology

Using transponders that leverage proven radio-frequency technology, the team is able to pinpoint the individual’s location to within a foot (as opposed to within 15 to 20 feet typical of GPS devices). The precise nature of the technology is critical for rescuing wandering children and adults.

“When it’s dark and rainy and you’re searching for a lost, scared child in the middle of the woods, being able to get within a foot of the transmitter (as opposed to the 15 or 20 feet typical of GPS trackers) could be the difference between finding that individual and not,” explained Officer John Swords of the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office.

The transponder can begin narrowing down the location of the individual by vehicle, foot, or helicopter from anywhere inside a 15- to 20-mile radius. As the team gets closer the individual, a lower frequency can be used to home in on the search area. Because a detailed profile is kept on every individual enrolled in the program, every team member has access to vital information, such as what disabilities the individual has, what he or she looks like, and how to best interact with the individual once found so as not to cause him or her further stress.

A Long-Term Partnership

Even if the individual never does wander off, that person and his or her family will certainly get to know the Sheriff’s Office. Members of the Project Lifesaver team meet with each family to get the device up and running, demonstrate how to test the device daily, and explain how to notify the team about a loved one who has gone missing. After that initial meeting, Sussex County sheriff’s officers visit each individual every 60 days. At this time, the bracelets’ batteries are changed, and the devices are carefully examined and fully tested to ensure each transmitter works seamlessly if it’s ever needed.

When the individual has plans to go out of town (on vacation, for example), his or her family simply needs to notify the Sheriff’s Office about where they are headed, and the officers will take care of coordinating with the vacation destination’s local Project Lifesaver agency to ensure seamless coverage. Local officers offer the same support for enrolled participants visiting Sussex County from other areas. The officers are so dedicated to this important work that they take the transponders home with them, even on their days off, to ensure they’re always ready to respond to a Project Lifesaver emergency.

Designed for Children and Adults Who Wander

As technology continues to become more advanced and easily accessible, more and more parents are looking into tracking devices for their children as a general safety tool. While there are certainly many children and families who might benefit from the devices, it’s important to note that the Project Lifesaver program is only available to individuals with developmental disabilities and/or cognitive challenges that prevent them from understanding the dangers involved in wandering away and/or remembering how to get home. Thus, children and youth with only behavioral challenges (who may at times leave their homes out of frustration) are not eligible for this program.

Free for Sussex County Residents

Though nationally, Project Lifesaver has costs associated with signup, here in Sussex County, the program is totally free, with all fees waived! The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office has been administering the program since 2004, and there are currently more than 30 children and adults enrolled.

I’m very pleased that the Sheriff’s Office is able to provide such a critical, lifesaving service free of charge to the residents of our county,” remarked Sheriff Michael Strada. “Project Lifesaver provides peace of mind for loved ones and caregivers, safeguards those who are prone to wandering, and enables us to establish longstanding, supportive relationships with individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.”

The Sheriff’s Office welcomes new enrollees at any time, so if you’re looking for a tracking device for an individual with developmental disabilities and believe your loved one may qualify, please visit http://www.sussexcountysheriff.com/community/project_lifesaver/ or contact the Sheriff’s Office.

You can also contact SCARC to learn more about the many community resources available to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.