When someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease or dementia disappears, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office deploys scores of deputies, search dogs and even helicopters to hunt for them.
Sheriff P.J. Tanner thinks there is a better way.
At a press conference Thursday, Tanner announced the Sheriff's Office would begin fundraising to launch a different kind of search-and-rescue program. Project Lifesaver is an international organization that provides bracelets to Alzheimer's patients and others with memory loss so they can be tracked with receivers should they wander off.
"The technology is there, and it's proven," Tanner said.
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Project Lifesaver boasts a record of more than 2,500 missing persons found alive and well in 46 states, with an average search of just 30 minutes.
Tanner said local Alzheimer's support groups and advocates have been telling him about Project Lifesaver for months. The Sheriff's Office will need to raise at least $4,000 before starting the program, with a goal of raising $12,000 to purchase 20 bracelets for local patients at its launch, he said.
Edwina Hoyle, executive director of Memory Matters on Hilton Head Island, is one of those who encouraged Tanner to sign on with Project Lifesaver and who plans to help raise money.
"This is an asset to our county that will save lives, because six out of every 10 Alzheimer's patients may wander," Hoyle said. "There're so many ways that they can become lost and disoriented, and they may or may not be able to express to somebody they come across who they are, where they live, why they're lost and how to get home."
The most recent search for a wandering Alzheimer's sufferer ended well, when a 93-year-old St. Helena Island woman who left home in October 2011 was found safe and uninjured. But the longer the searches take, the less likely it is to find the missing person alive, Hoyle said.
The Sheriff's Office has already designated eight employees who will be on call once the program is running. Meredith Florencio, a victim's advocate, will be the administrator. She has already been sent to Project Lifesaver training.
Florencio said the Sheriff's Office plans to buy two receivers that can track the bracelets -- one for northern Beaufort County and one for southern Beaufort County.
Deputy Gary Murphy of the Chatham County Sheriff's Office demonstrated how the receivers work at the press conference. Although the bracelets do not send out a GPS signal, they can be sensed by the receiver up to three miles away on the ground and seven miles away from the air.
Murphy said the Chatham County Sheriff's Office has used Project Lifesaver for more than two years, and it has led to six rescues. Chatham deputies have offered to train Beaufort County deputies to use the technology, Tanner said.
Details on how to donate to the Sheriff's Office partnership with Project Lifesaver and how to sign up are expected soon.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.