A special bracelet could be all that's needed to help locate a family member with a medical condition who gets lost.
Officials say such help is coming to Columbia County through a program called Project Lifesaver, which assists in searches for wandering victims of Alzheimer's, autism, Down syndrome and other dementia and brain injuries.
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office trained last week to implement Project Lifesaver, in which a one-ounce bracelet is used to track missing people via a constant pulsating radio signal.
"It is a pro-active measure," said Lt. Patricia Champion, of the sheriff's office Community Services Unit.
The battery operated wrist transmitter is placed on people who have medical conditions that could cause them to wander, bolt or run.
"Currently, we have 1,494 saves, all in less than 30 minutes," said Butch Steahly, a Project Lifesaver instructor, adding that time is important in searching for missing wanderers as they often succumb to injuries or the elements if not found quickly.
The sheriff's office recently purchased six of the wrist transmitters for $6,000. They can be requested for residents afflicted by medical conditions that could cause them to wander. Champion said a physician statement confirming the person has a tendency to wander is required and the recipients do not have to have previously wandered to get a transmitter.
When a caregiver or family member reports a Project Lifesaver member missing, searchers immediately respond and can track the unique signal several miles away.
"There is no fee to the families," Champion said. "We're not going to charge. But what we are going to say is that if a family can afford a bracelet, we're going to ask them to make a donation to Project Lifesaver."
Evelyn McCain, an endorser of the program through the Pilots Club of Warner Robins, said the program is needed. McCain, who helped with the training, said Columbia County has an estimated 1,165 people with Alzheimer's. In the Augusta area as a whole, there are nearly 8,000 with the disease.
"I think it is one of the best programs anybody can be involved in," McCain said.
Steahly, a retired police officer, trained 14 Columbia County sheriff's employees and volunteers May 29-31. He said traditional searches are costly and time consuming. Most searches performed with Project Lifesaver technology require only two officers.
"You need to find that person, that's the important thing," Steahly said, adding that keeping the wrist band's battery charged is the most important aspect of the program.
Champion said Project Lifesaver volunteers will visit each program member to inspect the wrist band and change the battery monthly.
For more information or to apply for Project Lifesaver, call the sheriff's office Community Services Unit at (706) 541-2856 or visit www.projectlifesaver.org
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