Project Lifesaver needs participants

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some of the best community services often go unutilized.

Case in point is Project Lifesaver, a law-enforcement service that helps locate Alzheimer’s patients or others with mental disorders when they wander from their homes.

Though available in Franklin and Southampton County since 2003, just one city resident and a handful of county residents are enrolled in the program.

Franklin Police Sgt. Mark Cornell hopes to change that.

Cornell takes every opportunity to spread the word about the program, including a recent presentation for Franklin Rotarians.

Project Lifesaver participants are fitted with a wristband that works like a dog-tracking device. Each transmitter has its own frequency and emits a tracking signal that is detectible by law-enforcement officers up to a mile away, depending on ground density. The range is greater by air, and helicopters are deployed when a ground search is not immediately successful.

The program, founded by the Chesapeake sheriff’s office in 1999, boasts a 100 percent success rate in the roughly 1,600 cases in which the technology has been deployed. The average rescue time is 30 minutes.

&uot;This program is very personal to me,&uot; Cornell told Rotarians. &uot;My father is in a nursing home in Ohio, in the latter stages of dementia.&uot;

Since the program’s inception, some 640 law-enforcement agencies across the country have joined. The number is expected to surpass 1,500 by 2010.

Though local law enforcement was among the earliest participants, thanks to a grant secured by the Southampton County Sheriff’s Department, citizen participation has been slow to materialize — perhaps because of a lack of awareness, or perhaps because of a $25 monthly fee families are asked to pay.

As with most good community-service programs, the fee is voluntary; persons who would benefit from the program — namely Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and children with autism or Down syndrome — will not be turned away because they can’t afford it.

Said Cornell: &uot;This is not about the money.&uot;

Families interested in enrolling a relative can call Cornell at 562-8575. More information is available at .

STeve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is