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Why law officers are now better equipped to find lost dementia patients
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Project Lifesaver is a search and rescue program operated internationally by public safety agencies,designed for “at risk” individuals who are prone to the life threatening behavior of wandering. - photo by Scott Rogers

Several months ago, law enforcement searched for almost a day and a half to find a person with dementia who had wandered away.

Following training earlier this week and collaboration with a local nonprofit, these officers will be able to locate that person and others like them in short order.

“We’re glad to have this program back to the level it is intended to perform,” said former Gainesville Pilot Club president Sherrill Day.

Pilot Club of Gainesville, a local nonprofit dedicated to improving “the quality of life in Gainesville and Hall County by our actions, our deeds and our gifts,” started in 2007 raising funds for Project Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization that provides tracking equipment that officers can use to find people with brain-related conditions. 

On Monday and Tuesday, a dozen officers from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and other municipal police departments trained on how to use the tracking technology.

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Carlo Sanino of the Flowery Branch Police Department, prepare to go search for a Project Lifesaver transmitter using a receiver Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, during training with the device at the Hall County Sheriff's Office training center. - photo by Scott Rogers

The bracelets are no larger than a wristwatch, each with a small transmitter and battery, and are typically for patients who require full-time monitoring by a loved one or facility.

Day said the Pilot Club has two people they are ready to put the bracelets on but were waiting for this new round of training.

Because of the personal medical information that is released to law enforcement, the family must sign a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, release.

“They’ve already filled out the paperwork, so we will be quickly getting on that very soon as far as those two bracelets,” Day said.

On Tuesday, deputies split into groups of three to find hidden transmitters stashed in the wooded areas surrounding the Allen Creek Training Center.

Sgt. John Dawson, flanked by Sgt. James Brown and Deputy Steven Jeffries, slowly rotated with their receiver to catch a stronger signal. 

Alabama State Trooper Cpl. Kent Smith sent the officers on a series of searches. On the last one, deputies dispatched in a patrol vehicle and tried to find the transmitter nearly a mile out from the training center.

Project Lifesaver claims an average response time of 30 minutes or less which is “95 percent less time than standard operations without Project Lifesaver.”

Each group Tuesday found the device within 15 minutes.

Smith said Project Lifesaver is now implemented statewide in Alabama, an undertaking lasting four years. The corporal said it costs roughly $4000 to get a county set up with the equipment.

The sheriff’s office is in the process of ordering two more receivers in addition to the pair the department already owns. In September, Flowery Branch and Gainesville police departments each had one receiver.

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