Isanti County embraces Project Lifesaver to keep loved ones home safe

A program designed to locate people who wander away or become missing – most often due to a health condition – is now being offered to Isanti County residents.

Called Project Lifesaver, the public safety program helps provide rapid response to save lives and reduce the potential for serious injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism, Down syndrome, dementia, developmental disability and other health issues.

Brandon Oliver-Dave Matchinsky
Brandon Oliver, pictured, and Dave Matchinsky, both of the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office, use a receiver to locate a hidden transmitter during a Project Lifesaver field exercise Oct. 9 outside of the government center in Cambridge. Photos by Jon Tatting

“It’s just to bring loved ones home safe, and it has a 100 percent success rate so why not use it,” said Sgt. Lisa Lovering of the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office. “We have a lot of people not in care facilities, so these caregivers need assistance.”

Last week in Cambridge, Lovering and fellow emergency personnel participated in an in-depth training on using the specialized electronic search and rescue equipment, technology and procedures associated with Project Lifesaver. They also learned how to communicate with people who have cognitive conditions.

In a series of field exercises Oct. 9, hidden were multiple, quarter-sized transmitters that a loved one would wear on a plastic or nylon wristband — appearing as a white, plastic watch — in and around the tree line between the Isanti County Government Center and hockey rink.

In locating the transmitters, officers and rescue officials used a handheld directional device called a receiver that is moved in different directions until the targeted frequency (like tuning to a station on the radio dial) registers through a series of “beeps.” The louder the “beep,” the closer the officer is to the transmitter and thus, the victim.

The Project Lifesaver training was led by instructor Neil Johnson, a deputy with the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin. Of the 2,400 searches done nationwide, he noted in a past training, there has been a 100 percent success rate in finding people “alive and well,” and the average rescue time is less than 30 minutes.

Gordon Bates, of Isanti County Safety and Rescue, practices using one of the handheld receivers provided at the training
Gordon Bates, of Isanti County Safety and Rescue, practices using one of the handheld receivers provided at the training

Lovering, the main contact of the local project, said people — from private households and group homes to foster care and memory care units — can now participate in the program, which is in place across the nation, into Canada and more than 20 counties in Minnesota.

“We have 38 adult foster care or group homes and two memory care units with 54 beds in Isanti County,” she said. “And I have a waiting list of about 20 people now for this project.”

Funding for Isanti County’s Project Lifesaver is a result of awarded grant funding, donations and private contributions. Groups such as East Central Energy and causes including the Arctic Plunge on Long Lake have offered financial assistance, while others may do so as well. To donate or for more information, call Lovering at the sheriff’s office at 763-689-2141.