Caregivers of adults and children with special needs now have a local resource to help find loved ones who wander away from home.
South Fayette police officers Michael Blocher and Bryan Monyak are ready to respond to calls from clients of Project Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization that aims to respond quickly when someone becomes lost due to cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, or Down syndrome.
Officers find clients of Project Lifesaver by tracking their transmitter bracelet with a handheld or vehicle-mounted receiver. The signal is good within 1 ½ miles.
"It provides a community service for special needs people in order to provide a layer of protection for them,” Police Chief John Phoennik said. “That's why we are in the business: It all comes down to helping people.”
South Fayette Township, Moon Township and Pittsburgh are among the 16 communities participating in Allegheny County.
The South Fayette officers are two of about 40 certified responders in the county. Since the program went live in February, they have signed up two clients—one in South Fayette and one in nearby Robinson—but have not had a real call yet.
From their training course last fall, however, the officers learned how to use the equipment: Go to the client’s last known location, enter the bracelet’s radio frequency into the receiver, listen for a changing chirp that indicates the proximity and direction of the missing person, and search methodically. The average amount of time it takes to find someone is an hour.
“It works. It’s amazing,” said Officer Blocher, who has been a South Fayette patrolman for about 22 years.
Project Lifesaver is operated through the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. There is no cost to the township for equipment or training, and the service is free to clients and their families. The project is paid for with drug forfeiture money.
Caregivers or guardians who apply for the program will be assessed for eligibility, and if approved, be placed on a waiting list for a tracking bracelet.
“It's a good program,” Officer Monyak said. “If somebody with special needs goes missing, it's a help to locate them."
To learn more: South Fayette Township Police Department, 412-221-2170
To apply: Allegheny County deputy district attorney Tom Swan: 412-350-4401