Nearly two dozen Islanders using tracking bracelets for people at risk of wandering
Project Lifesaver bracelets allow rescuers to quickly locate a missing person
Like any parent, Jeff Nichols is concerned about keeping his children safe. But when it comes to his six-year-old son Logan, there are some additional concerns: Logan is on the autism spectrum, and is non-verbal.
"The main concerns with the safety is that he goes where he wants to go, not where you want to go," Nichols said. "He also really likes strangers. So if a stranger comes up to him and approaches him or something like that, he's likely to follow."
Recently, Nichols has achieved greater peace of mind. For about a year, Logan has been wearing a bracelet with a tracking device. Nichols knows if his son ever wandered off, rescuers would be able to quickly track him down.
Logan is one of 23 Islanders who are clients of Project Lifesaver, an international organization that provides tracking bracelets for people who could be prone to wandering — such as those on the autism spectrum, with Down syndrome, developmental delays, or adults with Alzheimer's or dementia.
More and more people have been signing up for the program in the last few years — and organizers would like to see those numbers grow.
'There's always that fear'
Tammy McQuaid started the Project Lifesaver chapter on P.E.I. in 2012, after hearing about a child who had wandered away from home in Cape Breton, N.S., and passed away.
McQuaid has a daughter on the autism spectrum, and said the news story "hit really close to home."
"With our clients, and with people within these communities, a lot of the times they don't have the survival skills … if they get lost. So there's always that fear that they'll succumb to the elements," she said.
McQuaid teamed up with P.E.I. Ground Search and Rescue and there are now about two dozen volunteers trained to use the tracking equipment, and who visit clients on a monthly basis to change the batteries in the bracelet.
The volunteers are also trained in the best methods to approach people who have conditions like autism and dementia. If a Project Lifesaver client goes missing, the volunteers use specialized equipment to track the radio frequency from the person's tracking device.
Cutting down search times
In the seven years since Project Lifesaver was established on P.E.I., McQuaid said volunteers have not yet had to find a client.
But P.E.I. Ground Search and Rescue president Gerald Arsenault said over the years, he has been involved in searches for people with dementia who have wandered off. He recalls the feeling of relief when his group found a woman at dusk, after a 14-hour search.
"With a bracelet it would have been a lot quicker than that," Arsenault said.
Arsenault recently travelled to Fredericton, where he trained ground search and rescue volunteers to use the Project Lifesaver technology. During the training, he sent his wife 2.5 km away, wearing a tracking device, and had the volunteers track her down.
"On average probably it would normally take us anywhere between five and nine hours to find a person that's gone that far from point last seen. And we had her found safely in 21 minutes."
The number of Islanders wearing Project Lifesaver bracelets has nearly tripled in the last two years, and Arsenault and McQuaid hope more people will sign up.
McQuaid said the bracelets cost about $375, but she said many people are able to get them covered by the province. For those who can't, Project Lifesaver has sponsors who will cover the cost.