PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is looking to expand its Project Lifesaver program, which helps law enforcement and search and rescue teams find people with Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive issues if they wander from their caregivers.
The program was implemented in Jefferson County in 2012 and currently has nine people enrolled.
On the North Olympic Peninsula, the Sequim Police Department was the first to implement Project Lifesaver in 2007; they currently have 11 people enrolled. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office joined Sequim in 2009 and has 14 people enrolled in the program.
Since 2012, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has only had to use the system once.
“It was a success,” said Detective Brett Anglin, one of the three people running the program in Jefferson County.
“Search and rescue for these situations can take anywhere from eight to 12 hours,” he said. “For this particular individual, they’d wandered off before and were found in about four hours, but with the system, the next time it happened, we found them in 30 minutes.”
According to Anglin, time is of the essence in such situations.
“According to the Virginia Department of Emergency Services, 46 percent of people not located within 24 hours are found deceased,” Anglin said. “The goal here is to decrease that 46 percent.”
A Project Lifesaver kit comes with a small transmitter and battery, which can be attached to a person with a band.
“It can be like a bracelet or an anklet, whatever is easiest,” Anglin said.
The small device — roughly the size of a watch — constantly sends out a signal that can be tracked by law enforcement or search and rescue personnel.
Currently, the program is available for a one-time payment of $350. That covers the equipment and the first year of batteries, which need to be replaced monthly, according to Anglin.
After the first year, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office takes on the cost of the replacement batteries.
The program costs the department less than $2,000 per year, he said.
“Our thinking is that small cost negates the cost of the time and personnel that would be required to find these people without the system,” Anglin said.
In Clallam County, the cost for enrollment is $50, thanks to a contribution from the Guerin Family Foundation, which provided the funds to start and maintain the program there.
Volunteers for the Project Lifesaver program are currently applying for a grant through the Accessible Community Act Project that would cover the full cost of the program in Jefferson County, Anglin said.
“The hope is not only to find people quicker, which is a huge part of the program, but also to lessen the stress of constant supervision by loved ones,” said Anglin. “Anyone who has a loved one with these kinds of issues knows the impact it has on the family. Anything we can do to minimize that stress is a good thing.”
Those interested in signing up their loved one can find applications for the program at the sheriff’s office, located at 81 Elkins Road in Port Hadlock. Applications for Clallam County can be found on the Sequim Police Department or Clallam Sheriff’s Office websites.
In order to be eligible, the person must have a cognitive disorder, be unable to operate a vehicle and have a history of wandering off.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected].