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Project Lifesaver - Could save a life of your loved one

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Having a loved one with a developmental disorder wander off and become lost is a fear for many Brainerd area families.

Thanks to a $5,000 federal grant, the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office now has a solution in Project Lifesaver.

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According to its website, Project Lifesaver International is a nonprofit organization that bridges the technological gap for at-risk populations and public safety agencies. Project Lifesaver provides police, fire/rescue and other first responders with a comprehensive program including equipment and training to quickly locate and rescue at-risk individuals with cognitive disorders who are at constant risk to the life threatening behavior of wandering, including those with Alzheimer’s disease, Autism and Down syndrome.

Project Lifesaver has more than 1,300 participating agencies throughout 47 states in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and has performed 2,825 searches over the last 14 years with no serious injuries or fatalities ever reported.

Neil V. Johnson, a deputy with the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office, conducted Project Lifesaver training with Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office staff last week at the Crow Wing County Highway Department property, located near the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.

The county received two tracking devices through the grant and several deputies worked with both pieces to learn how to use them.

Johnson said families purchase a small personal transmitter that goes around the person’s wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. If the person goes missing and has the device on, the caregiver can notify their local Project Lifesaver agency, such as Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, and an emergency team can use the tracking device to track the signal and find the individual who wandered off.

Johnson said most who wander are found within a few miles from home and the average search time is 30 minutes, which is 95 percent less time than standard operations.

“Those with disabilities are on the rise and this device will help find them if they wander off and get lost,” Johnson said of the device, which also can locate a person inside a building.

Sgt. Chad Paulson with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office helped write the grant to get the Project Lifesaver equipment. Paulson personally understands the importance of the device, as he has a 7-year-old son with autism who could wander off. Paulson said parents in an autism support group have expressed interest in purchasing the Project Lifesaver devices.

Paulson said the devices will be helpful to emergency responders to more quickly find those who wander off before anything bad happens, especially in the Brainerd lakes area, where there are many lakes to which an individual could wander.

Ian Wilson, an investigator with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, said using the Project Lifesaver device was easy to learn and will be a good tool in locating those who wander off.

“When searching for someone, we sometimes have no idea where to start and this will be a nice tool to point us in the right direction,” said Wilson. “The number of autistic children has grown and there is a need for these devices.”

Morrison County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Rocheleau also participated in the training. He said Morrison County received two Project Lifesaver devices in 2013, but so far has not yet had to use them. Rocheleau said there are two or three people who have purchased the small personal transmitter.

“We have a lot of lakes in our county, too, and this is a great tool,” said Rocheleau.

Families who want to purchase a device may go to the Project Lifesaver website at http://www.projectlifesaver.org. Once purchased the person then must contact their local sheriff’s office to be registered. The sheriff’s office will maintain the devices, such as making sure the batteries are charged.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at jennifer.stockinger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5851. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl.

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