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In search of better searching: County takes part in Project Lifesaver, which helps to find those who wander off

BEMIDJI--A new tool for saving lives is being implemented in Bemidji. Fittingly, it's called Project Lifesaver. The equipment is designed to find people who have cognitive conditions that make them prone to wander, such as autism, dementia, Alzhe...

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Beltrami County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Hinners poses with Jackson, one of the participants in Project Lifesaver, as he displays his bracelet that was just assigned to him through a grant from Autism Speaks. The bracelet transmits a signal that trained deputies can use search and rescue technology to track their location. (Submitted photo)

BEMIDJI-A new tool for saving lives is being implemented in Bemidji. Fittingly, it's called Project Lifesaver.

The equipment is designed to find people who have cognitive conditions that make them prone to wander, such as autism, dementia, Alzheimer's and Down syndrome. The clients wear bracelets containing a radio transmitter, while the County Sheriff's Department uses an instrument to find the transmitter in an emergency.

"There was a citizen that had seen this and contacted our department and said 'Hey, you should look into this,'" Deputy Scott Hinners said. "Our chief deputy looked into it and requested (Deputy) Lee (Anderson) and I to go to the training. We went to the training and that's the way it's taken off."

And it's taken off fast. The sheriff's department initially received three transmitters through a grant from Autism Speaks and, according to Hinners, and they were taken by clients right away. Hinners also said they received two more transmitters that are categorized for people with Alzheimer's and/or dementia.

According to Hinners, the session he and Anderson attended in Long Prairie included training on the equipment works and a trial exercise in the city. While the Project Lifesaver website boasts a 30-minute average for time between the emergency call and the rescue, Hinners and Anderson each found the person in their exercises in about nine minutes. Whether it's 30 minutes or nine, the Project Lifesaver equipment surely speeds up the search process, they said.

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Project Lifesaver is used in more than 1,400 agencies in 48 states, six Canadian provinces and Australia. In more than 3,000 searches in the last 16 years, no fatalities or serious injuries have been reported, according to officials.

Hinners said the radio waves the program uses are much more reliable than GPS.

"The only hindrance we may have is maybe a little wind or a little glass reflection, but that's about it," he said.

A bigger restraint the department is experiencing is lack of transmitters.

"Right now, we're kind of in a pinch," Hinners said. "The department doesn't have the funds to buy any. They're $350 to buy the transmitter and a year's supply of batteries."

He said they have started plans for fundraising methods, but anyone who doesn't want to wait for the funding to become available can pay the $350 through the sheriff's department, and they will service it for them like any other client.

"This instrument is used really for anybody that's got a physical disability that'll make them wander. It doesn't have to be autism, it doesn't have to be dementia," Hinners said. "If somebody else has got some type of physical disorder that makes them wander and can't care for themselves, this is a great tool for them."

Related Topics: Beltrami County
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