By LIZ VERLEY
“The timely response to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism and other related conditions or disorders,” is the primary mission of Project Lifesaver International (PLI)
Morrison County has had the PLI program up and running for the past 10 years.
Morrison County Deputy Doug Rekstad has been with the program since it began in the county. Rekstad took special training from PLI before the program started in Morrison County.
He said, “Right now the only participant in the program is Thomas Justin. Thomas is the seven-year-old son of Tom and Heidi Justin of Royalton. He has Autism.
Thomas has participated in the program for nine months. Heidi said, “I am really excited about this program. We are very fortunate to live in a county that can provide this service. As a mother you will do anything to keep your child safe. This is one more tool we have to accomplish this.”
Those participating wear a small personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. Each individual is given their own frequency code assigned only to them.
To make sure it is working, twice a day Heidi checks Thomas’ personal transmitter that he wears on his wrist with a small receiver. Each time it is checked it is logged on a sheet. If she finds it not working she calls Deputy Rekstad, who responds to check out the equipment.
If at some point Thomas could not be located, Heidi would call 911 and give the special
frequency code to specially-trained personnel who would arrive on the scene to begin the search, sweeping the area with a receiver.
Response time in finding lost or missing persons in the PLI program averages 30 minutes.
Rekstad said, “While we have not had to conduct a search, on April 29, a person with dementia was found within four minutes in Winona and in North Branch someone with autism was found within eight minutes. These are common response times that are reported and tracked.”
There are currently 1,200 agencies in 45 states that participate in the program. These include police, sheriff, fire, public safety departments and other emergency responders.
At the present time, Minnesota has 12 agencies in the program with the closest being Sherburne, Cook, Wright and Kandiyohi counties and the Big Lake Police Department.
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said, “I first heard of Project Lifesaver nearly 10 years ago and thought it would be an outstanding service to offer families of children or adults with special needs who show a tendency to wander off. Our tests, along with actual cases from other jurisdictions, have shown that on average, we are able to find a lost person within 25 minutes. Compare that with cases you’ve heard where sheriffs spend days searching for a lost person, with some of them ending by the person being found too late or not at all.”
There is an initial cost of $260 which covers the cost of the individual’s equipment. After that there is a monthly fee of $10 to cover the cost of batteries.
Rekstad said, arrangements for paying for the equipment can be made
Living along a river and in a wooded area, Heidi said, “I would recommend Operation Lifesaver to anyone. Keeping a loved one safe is everything. It is a great thing. I am so glad to have this peace of mind.”
“Saving lives and saving families the anguish of losing a loved one were the driving reasons behind our decision to participate in this program,” Wetzel said.
For more information on PLI one may contact Rekstad at (320) 632 – 9233.