City and county officials along with local media got the opportunity to observe how the countyâ€™s new Lifesaver Project operates through a special demonstration Thursday at the Sheriffâ€™s Office.
The project, which commenced this week, is aimed at better helping law enforcement agencies locate individuals with memory-related illnesses who wander from a residence.
Austin Rodriguez, 9, is the first client to use the technology. Born with autism, Austin has wandered away from his Buffalo Shoals home.
â€œWe donâ€™t blink when heâ€™s with us,â€ she said. â€œHe would have a mission in his head, and we wouldnâ€™t know what he was thinking.â€
Since Austinâ€™s been wearing his Project Lifesaver tracking bracelet for the last month, calling it his â€œpolice watch,â€ his parents have been more at ease and are even surprised at how quickly their sonâ€™s adjusted to his new safety accessory.
â€œHeâ€™s really adapted to it â€” more than I thought he would,â€ Kathie said. â€œNow weâ€™re more at peaceâ€¦We know if he wanders, weâ€™ll have help.â€
The Rodriguez family first heard about the project through Facebook and immediately contacted the Sheriffâ€™s Office to see if something similar was in place in Lincoln County. Authorities told her about the projectâ€™s launch, and Austin was signed up to be the first candidate.
â€œWith autism, thereâ€™re no two children alike,â€ Kathie said. â€œThe spectrumâ€™s so wide. Itâ€™s not one size fits all.â€
Other potential candidates for the program include those with Alzheimerâ€™s, Down Syndrome and various forms of dementia.
The Denver Lake Norman Rotary Club Foundation is set to sponsor a fundraiser for Project Lifesaver this month at Captainâ€™s Cap Restaurant on N.C. 16 in Denver. The event, slated for 5:30-8:30 p.m., will be Jan. 24. Meals will be handed out to the public free-of-charge. Rotary officials hope to raise between $8,000 and $10,000 through the event, an amount that Sheriffâ€™s Lt. Erin Long is anxious to see become a reality.
â€œThatâ€™ll get us really going in the right direction,â€ she said.
Through a grant, the Sheriffâ€™s Office was able to purchase an initial set of Lifesaver equipment. Two more sets have been purchased for each of the countyâ€™s other two districts. Each set consists of two antennas, one to mount in a patrol vehicle and one for hand-held use, authorities said.
Once the Communications Center notifies authorities of a missing Project Lifesaver member, all trained sheriffâ€™s officers are set to initiate a search for the individual.
Upon finding the signal of that personâ€™s anklet or bracelet, authorities then hook together the two antennas â€œto get better direction,â€ Long said. A person can be tracked within a one-mile radius of the technology, which cuts hours off of authoritiesâ€™ search time.
Long said previously it took officers an average of nine hours to locate a person missing from a memory-related illness. Now, she said it takes about 30 minutes, the same amount of time it took authorities to locate the â€œmissing personâ€ in Thursdayâ€™s demonstration.
â€œWe can pin-point that much quicker,â€ Long said.
In addition to a radius barrier, the technology has trouble tracking a signal through buildings.
â€œSometimes it bounces off â€¦ and you have to go around it (building),â€ Long noted.
Sheriffâ€™s Office officials said they hope to increase the projectâ€™s technology in the future, even being able to track missing persons from an aircraft, an advantage that Catawba County authorities already offer.
Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid was vital in spreading word of the project to Lincoln County authorities and providing officer training, Carpenter said. Gaston County authorities also utilize the Lifesaver Project.
Currently, seven sheriffâ€™s officers are trained in how to use the system with more officers slated to be trained in the near future.
Caretakers of individuals who sign-up for the project are only required to periodically check the bracelet or ankletâ€™s battery life in addition to paying a $20 monthly fee to cover the cost of batteries and maintenance.
â€œAuthorities will come out to the home and do everything else,â€ Long said.
Sheriffâ€™s Office authorities plan to spread the word about the project by handing out pamphlets at the site of Lincoln Countyâ€™s adult DSS and Senior Center.
For more information on a loved oneâ€™s eligibility for the program, contact Lt. Erin Long at (704) 736-8878.
For more information on the fundraiser dinner, contact either of the following individuals at their appropriate email address: Barbara Norman, firstname.lastname@example.org; Anne Michael, email@example.com; Bob Hecht, firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
â€œIâ€™m very, very happy â€” very pleased,â€ Kathie said of the project.