Tracking bracelets available

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

WINDSOR – The families of five elderly or disabled Bertie County citizens will soon have the opportunity to better assure the safety of their loved ones.

Thanks to the launch of Project Lifesaver after a training session held Thursday for Bertie County law enforcement officers, five tracking bracelets are now available for use on the most needy patients.

The bracelets are meant for those with Alzheimer’s or a similar debilitating disease who tend to wander and become lost.

Once a patient is outfitted with a tracking bracelet, law enforcement officers who are trained in use of the equipment can easily find them.

&uot;It’s something that we’re doing as a service to the community and hopefully it is something that we’ll never need, but we want to take advantage of all the technology that is out there to aid us in keeping people safe,&uot; stated Bertie County Sheriff Greg Atkins.

Dana Wood of the Brian Center first presented the idea for the project to the Bertie County Commissioners last June.

At that time, the commissioners approved the use of $10,000 in county funds to help offset the cost of equipment, training and use.

Thursday’s training session was conducted by Instructor Greg Pratt with North Carolina Project Lifesaver’s specialized team of workers.

Pratt told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald the story behind how the tracking bracelets came to be in common use.

&uot;We’re the ones who started it in ’94 or ’95; we put the first bracelet on in Stokes County on January 1 of 1996. There was a guy there who just walked off every week, and we found him in 8-12 minutes where it used to take running (tracking) dogs all day to catch him,&uot; he stated.

Pratt continued, &uot;From there, Forsythe County came to us and wanted to do that, then the state talked to them and wanted to do a pilot program, but then the state ran out of money and asked us to find financing and go statewide, which we have.&uot;

The Project Lifesaver group is a non-profit organization made up of both paid and volunteer workers. Since they went statewide in 1998, they have made over 1,500 missing-person finds using the bracelet.

Once you snap the band on a person, it must be cut off, something that most patients who need one are not likely to do themselves.

If that person is reported missing, they can then be tracked from a short distance using radio waves emitted from the arm bands.

&uot;It’s not GPS, it’s a radio signal that pulsates and throws out a signal like clicking on a 215 frequency band,&uot; Pratt explained.

The tracking device used by law enforcement or Project Lifesaver workers only works a mile from the missing person in each direction on the ground and up to five miles from the air.

&uot;But most Alzheimer’s patients don’t go more than that from the house, no more than 2,500 feet, but in that distance they can get lost or tangled up in briars,&uot; Pratt noted.

The bracelets aren’t for everyone, though.

&uot;It’s not going to be for every person, that’s the part we determined, but if their doctor says yes then they can get one,&uot; he explained.

Even though the target population is the elderly, the bracelets can also be used on disabled children.

Pratt added, &uot;The FCC licensed us for using a medical frequency, so it’s not for locating your (normal) child; it’s for a child that is disoriented or continuously running off in a way that endangers them.&uot;

Each bracelet has a unique identifier on it to tell those at Project Lifesaver who each person is and all medical information on that person, including medication.

&uot;That’s to help if someone happens across them in times before anyone knows they’re missing, like if they’re found on the side of the road or something,&uot; Pratt stated.

He continued, &uot;Our whole goal in this thing is to be able to save a life.&uot;

Statewide, Pratt estimates 15-16 sheriff’s departments who are tied into the program, but there are individual bracelets in just about every county or at a nursing home facility in every county.

Project Lifesaver’s main office is in King, North Carolina.

They employ 18 people total and have three people working the state seven days a week, 365 days a year.