Kawaski Barnes, a detective of the Albany Police Department Family Protection Unit, conducts an informational session on Project Lifesaver, a program designed to more quickly track down people with cognitive disorders who go missing. APD officials are currently attempting to drum up financial support for the program.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Following the launch of Project Lifesaver, a program designed to assist families and local law enforcement in the recovery efforts of missing individuals with various cognitive disorders, at the Albany Police Department, officials from the APD recently conducted an informational session on the initiative to help get word out and drum up some support for the cause.
At the program, the public -- as well as representatives from various community agencies -- were able to receive detailed program information and obtain program applications.
Project Lifesaver functions as a joint effort between the community and first responders. When someone wearing one of the program's tracking bracelets goes missing, law enforcement agencies can use a device that picks up a signal from the bracelet, thereby locating the missing individual within a few minutes.
Kawaski Barnes, a detective with the APD Family Protection Unit, explained that each bracelet has an individual frequency and the tracking equipment is set to find that specific frequency.
On foot, someone can be tracked within a mile, while the radius from inside a helicopter is around 10 miles, officials say.
"When we are notified immediately, most people are found within minutes," Barnes said. "If they go missing, notify us immediately rather than look yourself for 30 minutes to an hour. That will give them (the missing individuals) less time to go out of that range."
The APD was selected to receive a grant to fund the equipment necessary to jumpstart the program -- which resulted in three Albany children receiving tracking bracelets on Jan. 15.
"We feel we have the primary pieces in place to launch this program and make it beneficial to us," said Sonya Johnson, planning, research and accreditation manager for the APD.
A lost person with a mind-altering disease can present a critical emergency. Officials say that with more than 5 million people in the United States suffering from Alzheimer's, and with this number expected to triple by 2050, well over 50 percent of these people are anticipated to some point be wandering into the streets unsupervised.
Of those, nearly half will die and many will suffer from serious injuries if they are not located within 24 hours of going missing, police officials say.
Even those directly involved in the implementation of the program in Albany have learned something from it, specifically the impact certain cognitive disorders can have.
"I used to think that Alzheimer's was something for the elderly," Barnes said. "When I started doing research, I realized that there is such a thing as early onset Alzheimer's."
Aside from his involvement in the program from a law enforcement standpoint, Barnes said he has personal connections to it as well.
"My nephew (who has autism) wandered away from home in 2009. He was located within 25 minutes, (by which time) he had gotten a mile-and-a-half away from home," he recalled.
Since the three Albany children received their bracelets last month, a plea has been made for donations for the program so that additional bracelets can be purchased.
While families do have the option of purchasing their own bracelets, APD officials say they are pushing a fundraising campaign because many of the families who need one cannot afford it for themselves.
"Some of these families are on fixed income, so if we can help with the funding, we will," Barnes said.
"We are raising funds for those who can't afford them, because most cannot."
One bracelet alone is worth $250, plus a monthly maintenance fee of $15. Over the last few weeks, there has been enough interest in the program to generate a waiting list of families wanting to receive bracelets.
The Project Lifesaver program was initially founded in Chesapeake, Va. in April 1999. Officials in Albany say that interested parties are allowed to sponsor a specific individual in need of a bracelet.
Officials have also said that if a client is later determined to not be in need of a bracelet, it can be returned undamaged to be reissued to someone else.
Those seeking more information on the program, or those wishing to apply to receive a bracelet or provide financial contributions are encouraged to contact the APD Family Protection Unit at (229) 431-2123.