Beaufort County Sheriff's Office trained for new search-and-rescue program

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 4, 2013 

Invaluable.

There is no better way to describe a new search-and-rescue program -- for those with cognitive conditions who might become lost -- that's coming to Beaufort County, according Lt. James Moore of the Chatham County Sheriff's Office in Georgia.

Moore and Cpl. Gary Murphy were at the Bluffton Police Department last week to train officers from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office in the national Project Lifesaver program.

It is designed to track and rescue people with Alzheimer's disease, dementia, autism and Down syndrome should they become lost. Program participants wear transmitter bracelets that put out a constant signal so officers can track them with antennas and receivers.

About 1,200 law enforcement and fire agencies across 45 states use it. Beaufort County is one of the newest participants.

The average rescue time is about 30 minutes, Moore said, and the program has a 100 percent success rate. Of the more than 2,600 searches across the country, every lost person has been reunited with their loved ones, he said.

"This is going to be a huge benefit to the office, but especially to the community," said Beafort County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Katrina Light, who has been leading the local effort. She expects it to up and running within a month.

The program has been in Chatham County for about four years and has resulted in 12 rescues, Murphy said.

Light said eight Beaufort County officers were trained as instructors. They, in turn, will train every officer in the department to conduct the searches.

The Sheriff's Office has been raising funds for the past eight months to support the program. It cost about $3,400 to become part of the program. There is an additional $280 per person, per year charge for equipment, Light said.

The program is free, however, for those who sign up for it.

"We don't want to put a price on that kind of peace of mind," Light said.

The office is working with Memory Matters and Alzheimer's Family Services of Greater Beaufort to promote the program and get referrals, Light said. She said she has received about 10 referrals so far.

Potential participants must sign up through the Sheriff's Office and have a 24-hour caregiver who regularly checks the transmitter's battery. The caregiver also would be responsible for contacting the Sheriff's Office if the participant became lost.

"Any time we can give someone the peace of mind that if their loved one wanders we can find them and bring them home -- you can't beat that," Murphy said.

For more information on the program or to donate to it, contact Light at 843-255-3410.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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