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Tracking Device Speeds Rescues: Project Lifesaver Monitors Can Pinpoint Location

MORGANTOWN, W.V. — A Project Lifesaver tracking device could help searchers find missing people more easily, Monongalia Sheriff s Deputy J.N. Kisner said.

Kisner demonstrated the device to law enforcement officers Tuesday, as the search continued for a missing Morgantown hiker who is autistic.

If the authorities looking for that boy had had this program in place before the search began, they would have been able to locate him more quickly and easier using less manpower, Kisner said.

Jacob Allen, 18, of Grand Street, wandered ahead of his parents, Jim and Karen Allen, while hiking the Boar s Nest Trail in the Dolly Sods area Sunday. His brother told The Dominion Post he may have trouble responding to searchers because he speaks but doesn t use words. Searchers are now shouting promises of candy and other food in hopes of luring him out.

Project Lifesaver places small tracking devices, about the size of a wristwatch, on people with cognitive disabilities. Kisner said the monitor allows authorities to accurately pinpoint the location of anyone wearing the device.

The monitors use radio telemetry, which allows for more accuracy than global positioning satellites. These waterproof devices can locate someone up to eight feet underground or 11 feet under water.

These things are very accurate, Kisner said. If you were to hide one of these monitors in your pocket, a police officer would be able to tell you which pocket it is in.

Law enforcement officers are being trained to use the tracking device this week. The closer a police officer gets to the device, the louder the receiver chimes. The receiver picks up the transmission that is geared to that particular frequency.

Police testing the monitors were able to track down a monitor hidden at a grocery store and another at Ruby Memorial Hospital.

It is really easy to use — very user-friendly, said Ashlea Duda, of the Morgantown Police Department.

Sue Pantalano, the program administrator, said 42 states use the Lifesaver program, including West Virginia. It s in place in 12 counties in West Virginia, but Pantalano hopes that by 2012, every county in the state will be participating.

Since 1999, she said, there have been 1,570 rescues nationwide using these devices. The average rescue time is under 30 minutes. Of three rescues using the devices within the state, the shortest time was nine minutes and the longest was 44 minutes.

If the average conventional rescue takes nine hours, and the average Project Lifesaver rescue is under 30 minutes, to me it is a nobrainer, Pantalano said. Rescuers at Dolly Sods could have been using this tracking equipment from the air to cover a wider area and hopefully been able to locate him much sooner.

Pantalano said Greer Industries provided $6,000 to purchase the start-up emergency units that included two receivers and two antennas for ground use, two antennas for use on police vehicles and two transmitter bracelets for Monongalia County.

The sheriff s department is going to need more money to pay for the monitors, which cost about $300 each. Pantalano hopes the Monongalia County Commission will be able to appropriate a few thousand dollars to the program for these tracking devices, which will be distributed by the sheriff s department.

The only charge for anyone enrolled in the program will be $10 a month, which will cover the cost of the battery and wristband, which has to be changed monthly. Pantalano said people who cannot afford to pay the monthly maintenance fee will not be turned away.

I hope the county commissioners pay attention and donate funds for this program to benefit the people of Monongalia County, she said.

The sheriff s department wants to partner with a nonprofit agency to raise money to provide transmitters to the people in the county who will benefit.

This device gives caregivers a peace of mind to know that if their loved one wanders off and becomes lost, that they now stand a much better chance of that loved one being brought home safely, Pantalano said.

PROJECT LIFESAVER INFO: Monongalia County Sheriff s Department Deputy J.N. Kisner, 291-7260.