Joan Ryan

Joan Ryan

Project Lifesaver brings loved ones home

NANAIMO – Project Lifesaver radio tracking system now available to help search teams find missing loved ones.

When people go missing it can take days to find them. Some are never found.

Nanaimo Search and Rescue has introduced a system specially designed to help find people with cognitive challenges, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism and Down syndrome, who wander off.

Project Lifesaver International, a non-profit organization based in Chesapeake, Va., that works with law enforcement agencies in Canada and the U.S., has developed a radio tracking system similar to those used to by researchers to track wildlife.

The system has essentially been miniaturized to a device about the size of a wrist watch the user wears on a wrist or ankle and can drastically cut down the time it takes searchers to find someone.

“The typical find time, once we get on scene is down to 30 minutes,” said Kyle Van Delft, Nanaimo Search and Rescue team leader. “Things like GPS and cell service have all been tried. They eat through batteries quickly and they don’t work inside buildings and parking structures and dense forests.”

The radio frequency the system uses passes through reinforced concrete structures and foliage and uses little battery power to broadcast its signal.

Van Delft said the frequency of people going missing is increasing as the local population and its average age rises.

“It’s not a huge number, but it is on the rise just like everything,” Van Delft said. “Whether it’s people in the backcountry going exploring and pushing their limits or it’s people in town. It’s all on the rise for us.”

When a loved one goes missing, caregivers call the police and the search and rescue team is sent out to the area from where the person wandered.

Van Delft said search and rescue volunteers have been training on the system since it was introduced here in mid August. The system boasts a nearly 100 per cent find rate unless the wearer cuts off the transmitter and leaves it behind, which happens occasionally.

Nanaimo Search and Rescue and Nanaimo Lifeline, the agency contracted to handle the sales and maintenance of the devices, are trying to get the word out that the system is now available locally.

Joan Ryan, Nanaimo Lifeline executive director, said most people who go missing are found within a couple of kilometres of their homes. She said the system has already had success in the Victoria region where one woman was tracked down on a ferry.

“They tracked her from Sidney to the ferry terminal where the signal got fainter and fainter,” Ryan said. “They called the police who were waiting for her on the other side.”

Ryan related a second story about a woman who cut off her transmitter and dropped it in her purse. She was found at a bus terminal and picked out from the crowd with a photo taken of her when her family signed up for the system.

People can order the service for an initial cost of about $300 for the purchase of the transmitter plus a $25 monthly service fee.

Battery change once each month is crucial because if the battery in the transmitter unit fails the system is useless.

“We do all the intake information, handle the money and get the transmitter out there,” Ryan said. “Our volunteers or staff will actually do a monthly visit to do maintenance because it’s a monthly maintenance for replacing batteries and bracelets.”

For more information about Project Lifesaver or to enrol a loved one in the program, please call the Nanaimo Lifeline program at 250-327-8599.