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New York Counties Receive Equipment For Tracking Children And Adults With Cognitive Disorders

Lucas Willard


Note: The audio and text of this story has been updated 5/8/14

When Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo came into office in January of last year, he said he had never heard of “Project Lifesaver.”

“I started to field calls from some of my residents asking if we were involved in Project Lifesaver. I said, ‘Project Lifesaver?’ I had no idea what it was. I made some inquiries to DCJS and they said there was a program available that they were going to have some training for throughout the year. Well, it’s here,” said Zurlo.

Project Lifesaver is a service that allows trained law enforcement officers to track and locate missing people wearing a specialized bracelet – similar to equipment researchers use to track animals.

Project Lifesaver CEO and Founder Gene Saunders said the technology was first put to the test when he was working as an officer in Virginia to locate a man with dementia.

“So we roll into the neighborhood and as I’m approaching the house I turn on the radio receiver and the most wonderful sound I ever heard came across that receiver. And the officers who trained with us will tell you a chirping is a great sound, because you know you have locked into their frequency and their transmission. We located this gentleman in one-and-a-half minutes,” said Saunders.

The company has partnered with New York to provide 21 county sheriffs with the technology used to locate wandering individuals with autism, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive disabilities. Saratoga, Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Washington, Broome, and Herkimer counties are among the 21 joining 27 other counties that already use the technology.  Counties will receive the technology free of charge. The state is using $253,000 from the Missing and Exploited Children Special Reserve Fund.

In addition, the state is holding training sessions for the equipment throughout the state, including Thursday in Saratoga County.

Johanna Sullivan is director of the Office of Public Safety at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service. DCJS is home to the state’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse, which issues Missing Child and Missing Adult alerts.

“Last year, of the five children alerts that we had, four of them were for children with cognitive impairments who will be benefitting from this program today,” said Sullivan.

Jackie Roberts, who was joined by her family, including her son Ryan, who has autism and is nonverbal, was pleased her home county would be receiving the Project Lifesaver equipment.

“There’s a whole gamut of emotions I think really come through when your son is first diagnosed with autism. The biggest thing that comes to the forefront? Fear. Fear for their safety from a standpoint of ‘Are they going to go somewhere? Are they going to get hurt?’” said Roberts.

Bert E. Brodsky, founding chairman of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, presented Project Lifesaver with a check for $12,500 to cover the cost of 50 more devices for law enforcement agencies.

“I’m a parent and a grandparent. And as I told Jackie, there’s no other feeling than to protect your own child. And to be able to provide funds for 50 more of these devices to protect your child…Ryan, your parents love you, and Jackie, I know how you feel because I’m a parent and a grandparent,” said Brodsky.

New agencies will each receive 13 transmitters and tracking devices. Existing agencies will receive 11 new transmitters. 

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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