GPS finds lost

Technology helps rescuers locate wanderers

Technology helps rescuers locate wanderers

December 02, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Global positioning technology soon will help rescuers more easily find Washington County residents prone to wandering away from their families.

Emergency workers will use a global positioning system to zero in on transmitters attached to people at risk of getting lost.

A person prone to walking off - usually because of a cognitive disorder, such as Alzheimer's disease or autism - might be eligible for a transmitter on his or her wrist, in a plastic case, similar to a watch.

After a three-day training session that concluded Friday, volunteers connected to the project, called Project Lifesaver, spoke highly about its usefulness.


"What does this mean? It means life," said Cindy Hill of Hagerstown, whose 7-year-old son, Luke, has autism.

Luke has bolted twice while his parents looked away, she said - once in a shopping mall. "He was at least a hundred feet away, running - no fear, just running," she said.

No one in Washington County will get a transmitter until at least late January, said N. Linn Hendershot, the chairman of Many Individuals Helping Individuals, or MIHI, a nonprofit organization working on the project.

Organizers first must decide who, in theory, should get transmitters, said Kelly Anderson, a special educator in Frederick County, Md. Anderson taught the training session at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

She said Washington County is the state's 12th county to adopt the system.

Money will dictate how fast the program expands. The county is starting with 10 $300 transmitters. Hendershot said the goal is to have 200 within a year.

Handheld locator antennas have a range of one mile, Anderson said. Car-mounted antennas are good for up to a quarter-mile.

An average walking speed is 4 mph.

Hagerstown Police Capt. Charles Summers said a local man with Alzheimer's disease who left his home was found dead about a quarter-mile away.

The average missing-person search takes nine hours, at a cost of $1,500 an hour, Anderson said. In a GPS tracking test this week, trainees took about 20 minutes to find someone several blocks away.

Hill learned about Project Lifesaver four years ago from Lois Noland of Hagers- town, whose son also has autism. Without money, the project stalled.

About a year ago, MIHI got involved. Hill said Hendershot pushed hard for progress.

The $38,000 raised so far has come from government and private donors.

With permission from the state, the Washington County Community Partnership for Children & Families gave $24,999.

Director Stephanie Stone said the amount was intentionally $1 less than $25,000, the threshold at which county bidding requirements would make the donation more difficult.

Project Lifesaver seeks donations

Local organizers of Project Lifesaver have asked anyone who knows of a Washington County candidate for a transmitter wristband or who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to write to Many Individuals Helping Individuals, P.O. Box 3511, Hagerstown, MD 21742 or call 301-745-6444.

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