April was Autism Awareness Month, and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office instituted Project Lifesaver as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of autistic children and adults.
Originating from a program in Virginia, Project Lifesaver is gaining popularity with local law enforcement agencies around the country. Using wristwatch-sized radio frequency transmitters that can be worn on a person’s wrist or ankle, the units emit a signal that can be used to locate an individual if he or she wanders off and is listed as missing.
Project Lifesaver has been operating in Saratoga County since 2015 and was introduced to local law enforcement by Albany County sheriff’s Office, which has been using the transmitters successfully for its autistic population, as well as individuals with dementia.
Deputy Andrew Gravelle is one of the program’s administrators and the sheriff’s office has enrolled 19 people in the program so far. Gravelle said the department is happy with the number of people enrolled, which is slightly higher than the average number of clients in surrounding counties. Officials will continue to do outreach and evaluate other residents who are at a higher risk of wandering off or becoming disoriented and lost.
Gravelle said most clients come as referrals from doctor’s offices, missing persons seminars and word of mouth. Referrals also come from people who act as caregivers to the elderly.
There are certain criteria a person should meet to be a good match for the program. Because the signal emitted by the transmitter can only be tracked at short distances, the program’s success hinges, in part, on how quickly a person has been reported missing.
If someone lives alone or is alone for eight or more hours a day, they may have traveled out of range before law enforcement receives word that they are missing. The optimal candidate for a wrist or ankle band is someone who lives with others, who would notice right away if that person goes missing.
The bands are waterproof and, ideally, they are worn all the time. This is another important criterion for the success of the program.
According to Deputy Sheriff Gravelle, people who don’t want to wear the bands all the time are not going to be the best candidates for the program, including young children that may become too distracted by the band.
“Some kids may also not be good candidates for them,”Gravelle said. “And some elderly people just don’t want to wear it.”
However, for most people it has been working very well, the deputy said. It also promotes an increase of positive interaction between law enforcement and the community. Every two months, members of the Project Lifesaver team visit people in the program to change the batteries in the bands.
“We get to know the kids and the elderly people too,” Gravelle said.
He said that some of the autistic children who were terrified about meeting strangers are now enjoying their interactions with members of law enforcement – another positive consequence of the program.
Gravelle also noted that while a GPS tracker has longer-range tracking capabilities, the downside is that it requires nightly charging. The ability to go for two months without needing charging or a battery change means participants in the program are more likely to put the bands on their wrists or ankles and keep them on.
For more information about Project Lifesaver, contact the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department at (518) 885-6761 or learn more about the program at http://www.saratogacountysheriff.org/ and www.projectlifesaver.org.
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