Local News

‘Project Lifesaver’ Aims to Quickly Find Missing People With Brain Disorders

Posted November 23, 2007

— Technology used to find hunting dogs is being used to find missing people.

Project Lifesaver locates people with Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Down Syndrome, dementia and other brain disorders who wander away from home.

"We are hoping we can find people in less than a half hour once we arrive," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

People enrolled in the program wear a tracking device bracelet. If the person wanders away, rescuers use a mobile receiver to pick up the bracelet's signal. The technology is being used in Wake and Cumberland counties.

"We have a lot of people wander off and it takes us six, eight, ten hours before we can find them," Harrison said.

Billy Talley, 79, wasn't wearing a Project Lifesaver bracelet when he disappeared in May.

"I got lost," he said.

Suffering from dementia, Talley said he wandered away from a Cary restaurant and ended up in the woods – night fell and a storm moved in.

"Well it was quite scary, I tell you, when I realized that I was lost and had to find my way out, he said.

It was the next morning, 14 hours later, before Talley was spotted. He had never been more than a mile away from his rescuers.

"It is almost like finding a needle in a haystack," Harrison said.

In the year – Project Lifesaver has been in use – it has helped locate two missing Wake County people.

Talley is now one of 19 people in Wake County who wear the tracking bracelet. If he is ever lost and disoriented again, Talley said others will be able to find him quicker.

"That person is looking for someone to show him the way," he said.

The $300 bracelets are provided for free through donations. They have a tracking range of up to five miles in some cases.

For more information on Project Lifesaver, call 919-856-6848.


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  • Travised Nov 24, 2007

    They now even make a cellphone watch you can wear on your wrist. How small do you want to go?

    I don't like this idea, partly due to myself having a medical condition. How long before I'll be forced to be branded (just about) with a chip so they can track me. What else will be encoded in it or on the database? How I vote? What I make donations to? I don't think so.

    YES I think this is a big brother issue. Only when people CHOOSE, that being the key word, choose to have this installed (so it can be removed) externally on themselves of the caretaker of persons that cannot make decisions chooses to have it installed. Once the county or courts FORCE this on persons freedom is lost.

  • carolinagirl75 Nov 24, 2007

    You make some good points, and it sounds like the system could be improved. Having a person carry a cell phone would not always work, however. My nephew is autistic and has a tendency to wander away. He would never be able to hold onto a cellphone, or tolerate having it in his pockets, for that matter.

  • OSX Nov 24, 2007

    This isn't big brother. This is a way to find people who are lost and want/need to be found. I can't imagine what is like to be elderly and lost and can't find your way home. That has got to be a terrible feeling.

  • doinbizzness Nov 24, 2007


  • tmedlin Nov 24, 2007

    They can try as manu solutions as they want - I'm just glad to see them being pro-active - especially as I reach my "golden years!"

  • Eric Blair Nov 24, 2007

    I know there's a risk of having people yell Big Brother, but the sad truth is that this is being suggested as such a great benefit, but it sets precedent to track people. Soon you'll get to track your kids. Then folks on probation. Then the general population.

  • WABRS Nov 24, 2007

    Keep in mind that this is not a GPS-based system which reports the person's location. It is simply a low-powered radio transmitter. A cumberson direction-finding device tells you which direction the signal is coming from. It is extremely awkward and is subject to false readings caused by reflections from nearby metal objects. I have used these direction finders to locate sationary transmitters. I also have access to a more sophisticated (and expensive) doppler direction finder, which is more accurate.

    A downside to the device described in the article is that the battery must be changed at intervals--which would be the responsibility of caregivers. It also takes a lot of practice to use the Yagi antenna & receivers. Not only does one have to learn how to interpret the readings, but the antenna gets hung up in areas with trees and other vegetation.

    A modern cellphone might be more practical for finding lost people. The internal GPS chip can be "pinged" for a precise location.

  • childfreeinrdu Nov 24, 2007

    BIG BROTHER!!! Just kidding, it's a great idea, for kids and for the elderly with memory problems.

  • Made In USA Nov 24, 2007

    This will save a lot of money by reducing the man-hours it takes to have a search party. The devices will pay for themselves after just one use. Great idea.

  • xchief661 Nov 24, 2007

    Its amazing that someone only thought of using it for animals. It could very well have saved many lives before now. At least they are using it now. I think it should be required in all nursing homes. I also think the idea of using it in some way for children is something that should be addressed.