FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Fort Rucker Army Community Service Exceptional Family Member Program hosted a presentation on Project Lifesaver Aug. 25 at the new parent support program building.
Project Lifesaver’s mission is to provide timely response to help save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander off because of Alzheimer’s, autism, and other related conditions or disorders, according to officials from the Dale County Sheriff’s Office who added that the program is offered free of charge to those who reside on Fort Rucker and within the county.
Membership in the program can help reduce time spent searching for missing loved ones from days into minutes, said Calvin Bookout, Project Lifesaver coordinator for the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office, who added that Coffee County also offers the program for residents of the county for free.
“Prior to 1999, when someone with a disability would wander away, people had to file a missing person report, wait for 24 hours, and then in that 24 hours get friends and family to search,” he said. “If they did not find them in that 24 hours, then first responders could get involved. This took up a lot of money and a lot of time.
“Today, there’s almost 1,600 members in the agency in all 50 states and seven provinces in Canada,” Bookout said. “There have been over 3,500 rescues and the average search time is 30 minutes. I’ve participated in two searches, and both were found in less than 15 minutes.”
With Project Lifesaver, clients wear a small transmitter, usually in the form of a small watch-like band that transmits to a unique frequency, according to the Dale County Sheriff’s Office website. If the client wanders off, the family or caregiver notifies the sheriff's office who will respond to the area with specialized receivers to track the subject. The specialized receivers are able to track up to 1 mile on the ground during normal weather conditions. The Dale County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit also has a receiver installed on an aircraft that is able to track subjects up to 10 miles away. The average rescue time for Project Lifesaver participants is 30 minutes or less.
While the program is free, Angela Munn, chief clerk for Project Lifesaver with the Dale County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency does request a $10 donation for the battery replacement service, which is required every 45 days. Replacing the battery is done by a member of the Project Lifesaver team.
While the program does greatly reduce the time required to find missing loved ones, what it does not do is constantly track clients, which is a concern many people have about the program.
“Some people say, ‘It sounds like a great program, but, no, I don’t want y’all to track everything we do,’” Munn said. “I tell them, ‘No, we can’t do that with this program.’ It’s just to help find them if they wander off.”
The program also works across counties who have the program, she said. “If you go to Houston County to go to the mall or something, and your loved one wanders off there, call 911 and let them know they are missing and in the program, and they can send someone to help you.”
For more information on Project Lifesaver or to participate in the Dale County Sheriff’s Office program, call 334-774-2335. If you reside outside of Fort Rucker or Dale County, contact your local sheriff’s office to see if they have the program.