Jennifer Brubaker holds an antennae-like receiver up as she slowly turns her body in a circle.
“Chirp, chirp, chirp.”
When the device’s beeps get louder, the East Hempfield Township Police lieutenant walks in the direction it points. In 10 minutes, the receiver leads Brubaker to a transmitter bracelet hidden outside the county public safety training center.
When she finishes her training, Brubaker will be able to use the Project Lifesaver International technology to help find people with a cognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease or autism when they wander away from a caregiver.
Clients of the nonprofit program are outfitted with a transmitter worn on the wrist or ankle. It emits a tracking signal police can track with the receivers.
“This is a more efficient way to find loved ones for a happy ending,” Brubaker said. “It’s invaluable. It can save lives.”
East Hempfield Township, Manor Township and Millersville Borough police have joined the growing number of departments participating in the program. Brubaker and 11 other officers from those departments received hands-on training on the technology at the training center on Thursday and Friday.
Seventeen people already have the transmitters in the county. About half have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and the other half are autistic.
Organizers hope more people will join as additional police departments buy receivers and train officers.
Eleven police departments covering 15 townships and boroughs now can search for missing persons with the Project Lifesaver technology.
West Hempfield Township police, with the help of the Pilot Club of Lancaster, brought the initiative to the county in 2012, Chief Mark Pugliese said. Other participating police departments here include Columbia, Susquehanna Regional, Elizabethtown, Northwest Regional, Mount Joy, Manheim and West Lampeter.
Southern Regional Police, who cover Pequea and Conestoga townships, will join the effort later this year, Pugliese said.
Project Lifesaver provides equipment, training, certification and support. Without the technology, searches can last hours or days, Brubaker said.
The national recovery time using Project Lifesaver equipment is about 30 minutes, said Cathy Ash, from the Area Agency on Aging in Marietta, Ohio. She was one of the instructors at the training center this week.
People with cognitive disorders can disappear in an instant, she said.
“They have excellent caregivers but they have to sleep, take a shower, do laundry, cook supper or run out to the garage,” said Ash. “It can happen that quickly.”
Besides saving lives and injuries, shortening searches also saves police departments and municipalities money because fewer manpower and equipment are needed, she said.
The transmitter bracelet costs $350 and can transmit a signal up to a mile, according to Gail Monteleone, a Pilot Club member and a coordinator of Project Lifesaver here. Receivers cost about $1,600.
Brubaker wished the technology had been around several winters ago when an elderly man wandered off and was found dead near Roots.
In another case several years ago, a Dauphin County man in his 70s with Alzheimer’s went missing from Dauphin County, said Manor Township Police Officer Charles Snyder III. The man drove into Manor Township and wasn’t located until a milk truck driver reported the man’s suspicious driving six hours later.
“If he had LifeSaver, they probably would have found him earlier,” Snyder said. The man was OK.
The Pilot Club of Lancaster raised $10,000 to kick-start the program here and Project Lifesaver International contributed $5,000. Last year, Lancaster County commissioners approved $25,000 through the office of aging to expand the project.
Project Lifesaver started in Chesapeake, Virginia, in 1999 and now has over 1,200 participating agencies throughout 46 states in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
To inquire about buying a transmitter for a loved one, call your local police department or Monteleone at 471-5750.