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Project Lifesaver

A Lifeline For Those Who Wander

January 2013

If you have a child or family member at risk of wandering away, you need to know about Project Lifesaver. The program exists to save lives and reduce potential injury to kids and adults who wander due to autism, Alzheimer's, traumatic brain injuries and other Special Needs that prevent them from knowing how to get back home.According to David McCormick, Project Lifesaver Coordinator for Hamilton County, a search and rescue effort that once took 24 to 48 hours now takes his team 17 minutes on average. That's from the time 911 dispatchers connect with the emergency responders.

Indianapolis Program Coordinator, John Fultz, says his team has a 100 percent success rate in finding program participants. As of mid-November, the team had conducted 110 searches for the 2012 year, sometimes handling multiple searches at the same time. "We are here to help the community and give them a peace of mind so when they go to sleep or live their daily lives they know someone else is helping them protect their loved one."The way it works is simple. Program participants are given a small band to wear around their wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. If the person wanders, the family can dial 911 and tell the dispatcher their loved one is enrolled in Project Lifesaver and is missing. A trained emergency team will be contacted immediately.The radio frequency transmitter emits a signal at all times. "If they come in missing we dial in their frequency number and we find them that way. Once a month the crews go out and train with the equipment to make sure they and their equipment are up to standards," said Fultz.The program also keeps tabs on clients' medical histories and past experiences with wandering so emergency responders are better able to help the person when lost or upon rescue. "Knowing the medical history makes a difference in how we respond and what we are looking for when someone is missing. It helps in the search," said Todd Harper, Public Information Officer with Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services.Costs for program participants vary from agency to agency, but efforts are made to keep fees to a minimum. There is a $300 start-up fee for new clients served by Project Lifesaver Indianapolis. This covers the cost of the transmitter and a year supply of batteries and bands. Hamilton County is able to cover the cost for its residents.There are more than 1,200 participating Project Lifesaver agencies in the U.S., Canada and Australia. For more information or to find the Project Lifesaver agency that serves your neighborhood, visit www.projectlifesaver.org or www.projectlifesaverindy.org. Like your local agency on Facebook to stay informed of important updates.

Tips to Help Prevent Wandering

Project Lifesaver provides families a peace of mind they cannot create for themselves. Of course no family wants to put the agency's search and rescue skills to the test. There are ways to make a family home more secure to help prevent a loved one with special needs from escaping. John Fultz, Project Lifesaver Indianapolis Coordinator, and Beth Schweigel, Development Ally with the Autism Society of Indiana, offer a few tips for families:

1) Install special locks that require a key on all external doors. Place the locks as high as possible.

2) Place an alarm on all doors and windows that sounds each time one is opened.If necessary, consider nailing windows shut and replace glass with Plexiglas to prevent it from breaking.

3) Place the person with special needs in a room far away from exits so they must pass others on their way to the exits.

4) Understand why the child or loved one may wander off. Do they want to get away from something causing them anxiety? Do they have an impulse to always move? Do they not understand they need to tell someone before they leave? Learn why they are at risk and come up with preventative measures specific to the individual. Behavioral therapists may be able to help families with strategies.

"As we all know, special needs individuals can be very creative and determined when they want something and learn or figure out ways to get around things that are in their way," says Schweigel. "Despite our best efforts to prevent their wandering, we need to be prepared for when they do wander. That is where Project Lifesaver comes in. If they do wander, we can find them as quickly and easily as possible."

Tags: In This Issue, Parenting, Special Needs

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