Arrowsmith Search and Rescue quickly located a missing man with dementia on Jan. 7 using Project Lifesaver. - Black Press file photo

Radio transmitter helps quickly locate missing Parksville man with dementia

Man found within 12 minutes thanks to Project Lifesaver

Arrowsmith Search and Rescue quickly located a missing man with dementia after he wandered from his Parksville home on Jan. 7.

The man was found within 12 minutes of the search starting, thanks to a watch-sized VHF transmitter he wears on his wrist.

The transmitter comes from Nanaimo Lifeline’s Project Lifesaver and is set on a unique radio frequency so search and rescue teams equipped with direction-finding receivers can immediately dispatch and perform an electronic search.

The technology is not new but is reliable and doesn’t depend on cell service or a view of the sky that GPS systems need.

The man was found in good shape and taken home.

Project Lifesaver is an international program that was implemented in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region in 2013.

“We partnered locally with the Arrowsmith Search and Rescue,” said Project Lifesaver’s executive director Tammy Paton.

“Project Lifesaver started in 1999 (internationally). Twenty-six states have it and five provinces in Canada, but not every community has it.”

Paton said the program is designed for wanderers.

“They could be autistic kids, anyone with dementia, Alzheimer’s or down syndrome,” she said.

“Anyone with cognitive leanings towards wandering.”

When a person goes missing, search and rescue crews pick up a radio signal that’s being transmitted from the wrist of the Project Lifesaver client.

Paton said each client has a profile set up with a photo and physical description and information about the person for search crews.

Currently, only four people in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region use the Project Lifesaver transmitters but Paton said 26 people have used the program since its inception.

“We’ve had several successful searches,” she said.

Nick Rivers, Arrowsmith SAR president, said the Jan. 7 search was the first time search crews used Project Lifesaver to locate a missing person.

Rivers said he wishes more people in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area would use the program because it’s an extremely helpful tool when searching for a missing person. He said he was able to pick up the radio frequency of the missing man immediately and drive right to him.

“One of the things that I have felt in the past is when you’re called out for a person that’s gone missing that has a cognitive issue, and the person either isn’t found or is found but it isn’t a very happy ending, you’ll often look back and go ‘I wonder what it would have been like if this person was on Project Lifesaver,’” Rivers said.

He said it took little to no resources to locate the missing man and it’s entirely possible Project Lifesaver saved his life.

Rivers said Project Lifesaver hasn’t grown in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area as expected but it has taken off in Victoria.

“[In Victoria] it’s used quiet a bit, they have a very large client base down. From what I understand they’ve had hundreds of successful operations in Victoria,” Rivers said.

There are other systems used for locating missing people, Rivers said, like GPS, but he said when SAR did testing, they found that the GPS system didn’t work in heavy tree cover or in concrete buildings.

“That’s why we went with the radio frequency system so we could track [individuals] wherever they are,” he said.

Anyone interested in the program can contact Nanaimo Lifeline at 250-739-5770 or visit their website at http://www.nanaimolifeline.ca/project-lifesaver.html.

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