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Nonprofit partners with area police officers

The Winchester Star - 2/24/2017

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The motto for the nonprofit organization Project Lifesaver is “Bringing loved ones home,” and with local law enforcement officers trained to operate its radio transmitting equipment, families are offered an extra layer of security.

The radio transmitting equipment serves to find people with dementia, autism or Down syndrome who may have wandered away.

Locally, 16 people are registered with the nonprofit organization — nine with the Winchester Sheriff’s Office and seven with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office — which issues a transmitter to be worn on the person’s ankle or wrist.

Applications for three more people are under review, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office deputy Greg Lambert said Wednesday.

Chief Deputy Travis Sumption of the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that the agency recently acquired a receiver to participate in the program, and will be sending two deputies to training in order to certify them with the equipment.

Clarke County does not currently have any participating clients, but Sumption said they are accepting applications for those who feel they have a qualifying loved one.

Lambert, who heads up Project Lifesaver for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, said each individual registered with the program is issued a specific radio frequency, which allows deputies to hone in on the transmitter’s signal should the person wander away from their home or loved ones.

The average rescue time is 30 minutes, according to Project Lifesaver’s website.

The program isn’t funded with county money. It is fueled by donations from registered users and civic groups, Lambert said. That money is given directly to Project Lifesaver.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office initially began its involvement with Project Lifesaver in January 2016, and the office was later given a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Alzheimer’s Association.

“He [Sheriff Lenny Millholland] was able to get the grant, which trained seven of us,” Lambert said. “And that included the trainer, two receivers and two transmitters.”

An additional grant is expected to fund the office’s third receiver.

Millholland spearheaded the project in the area roughly 15 years ago, Lambert said, when he was Winchester City Sheriff.

And while those registered with Project Lifesaver must meet specific criteria, the seven trained deputies ultimately make the decision on whether the program is appropriate for an individual.

“What we try and stress is that this isn’t for people with kids who run away,” Lambert said. “There’s other devices that can be used for that. This is for those who wander.”

Over the past year, Lambert said he was called out to find a registered user, but that person had returned home on their own before a search was necessary.

Winchester Sheriff Les Taylor said his trained deputies are called out several times per year to find Project Lifesaver clients, and he recalled one such search when a man with Alzheimer’s disease went missing from his home near Valley Avenue on a sweltering August day. The man was found safe on the campus of Shenandoah University, Taylor said, and while his family was accustomed to him wandering, the deputies’ efforts finding him was a great relief, particularly during such extreme heat.

Deputies use a method of triangulation to find people, Lambert explained as he demonstrated the equipment, which can transmit up to a one-mile radius.

And while most people can walk an average of four miles per hour, Lambert stressed the importance of family members calling immediately when they notice a loved one is missing.

Waiting in the wings to help is the county Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team, which trains monthly.

“The idea is to have someone out looking within an hour,” Lambert said, “because time is crucial.”

Taylor said he was pleased to see Frederick County Sheriff’s involvement in the program and hopes that more jurisdictions in the region will also follow suit, creating a stronger network. Should that happen, Taylor said obtaining a drone that could be purchased and shared as a regional asset would prove even more effective.

— Contact Christopher Earley at cearley@winchesterstar.com

 
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