It happened in a split second.
While Susan Combs was doing the laundry and her husband, Andy, was on the computer at their Seymour home, their daughter, Alisen, slipped out the front door and started running.
The screen door was locked, but Alisen, who was 3 at the time, was able to unlock it.
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Fortunately, their neighbor had just gotten home from work, saw Alisen running and scooped her up before she made it to the street.
Alisen later was diagnosed with severe attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, sensory processing disorder and Asperger syndrome.
A couple of years later, they found out about Project Lifesaver from a family friend, Chadd Rogers, an officer with the Seymour Police Department.
Project Lifesaver is a public safety program designed to protect and locate missing people due to wandering. The mission is to use state-of-the-art technology in assisting those who care for people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism, Down syndrome and any other cognitive condition that causes wandering.
Alisen was the first recipient of a Project Lifesaver transmitter in 2016, and she’s now one of 21 involved in the program.
“I think this is a blessing for me to have because you guys can find me,” the 9-year-old recently said to her parents.
“That’s what we love about the program is if she were to come up missing or darted off or got away from us, as soon as we call it in and tell them she’s on Project Lifesaver, it instantly goes out to county, state, anybody local, and all of (the police agencies) know, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on. We have to find her ASAP,’” Susan said.
One time, Andy said Alisen dropped the transmitter while they were shopping at Petco in Columbus. A police officer was able to use a tracking system to instantly locate it.
“It took them right to it,” Andy said. “That proved to them that this is a huge deal.”
After the first year of the program in Seymour, Rogers said there were about 10 people involved in Project Lifesaver. In the past year, the number of clients has doubled.
The best part for parents and clients is there is no cost to participate. Fundraisers are conducted and donations are sought to take care of the expenses.
One transmitter with a year supply of batteries costs $375. The transmitters have a five-year warranty before a new one is needed. Each year, it costs about $40 to maintain with batteries and bands.
“Right now, we have the funds that we can buy more. If we get low, we continue to try to get donations, we do fundraisers,” Rogers said. “Right now with our funds, we’re doing OK, but when it’s time to purchase another 21 transmitters, the cost is quite steep.”
A recent $5,000 donation from the haunted attraction Fear Fair is going to make a huge impact on the budget, Rogers said.
In recent years, proceeds from Fear Fair have been used to equip local fire and police departments with automated external defibrillators.
“We are at a point, which probably will only last a year or two, where we’ve got the defibrillators all out there. Everybody has got one. Everybody’s got the batteries that are good or have found a way to sustain it,” said Brett Hays, director of Fear Fair.
“So we were sort of looking at the next thing, and this kind of fit along those same lines,” he said of Project Lifesaver. “It’s lifesaving, it’s first responder-type stuff that there just frankly isn’t anybody else out there offering money for, so it works out real well. It’s frankly really essential for the people to have it.”
Rogers said people of any age with a cognitive disability that may make them wander can participate. The program currently serves ages 6 to those in their 80s.
“When we do get a client, we explain to them what our intention is, who we are here to serve, and their loved one makes the determination if that is what they need and if it will be beneficial,” Rogers said.
Once a person is approved, they receive a transmitter that can be worn where it’s most comfortable, usually on the wrist or ankle. It’s worn 24/7 and is waterproof.
Police officers go through 16 hours of training to learn all about the transmitters and the receiver they use to find the transmitters if they are lost or the person wearing them wanders off. That training consists of lectures and tests.
An officer follows the beeps on a radio-frequency interference receiver to locate the person or transmitter.
“If you had GPS, there would be a monthly cost for the maintenance of it to keep it running, cloud interference, things like that could interfere,” Rogers said. “Where with this, no matter what atmosphere we’re in, it’s going to work.”
He said the Seymour Police Department tries to have one officer on each shift trained with the equipment.
“We’ve had four callouts reference the program,” he said of people going missing. “They all turned out positive.”
Every 60 days, an officer visits with a client to change the transmitter battery and the band.
“We try to find out if anything else is going on in their life, try to help them out and get to know the people and the family. That way, they have some comfort in dealing with the police and the police know who their loved ones are,” Rogers said.
During those interactions, he said he has learned about the impact Project Lifesaver has had on families.
“The big thing I’ve noticed, it’s a peace of mind for the parents, caregivers,” Rogers said. “They don’t have to worry as much if the child or adult actually wanders. They know they can be located relatively quick.”
It also allows families to go on vacations out of the area because Project Lifesaver is all over the country, Rogers said.
“What we do is we find out where they are going, we’ll look up and find out what the nearest agency with Project Lifesaver is, then we will print out their sheet that has their frequency numbers and everything that they will need that they can turn in to that agency to locate them,” he said.
The program also means a lot to Rogers because he has a son with autism.
“He’s not hooked up on the program, but I have the connection to special needs children, and I like to be involved with that,” said Rogers, who also is on the county management team for Special Olympics Indiana Jackson County.
“It’s a great resource, and I hope everybody that needs to be put on the program has the capability of doing it and not cost them anything,” he said. “I know a lot of special needs families out there, and the financial situations they are in because of the special needs child, it can be overwhelming, so I’m just glad we can offer this.”
Andy said he’s glad Rogers asked him a couple of years ago if Alisen would like to be the first recipient of a transmitter.
“The impact I think that makes for the community … it’s a lifesaver,” Andy said. “Me personally, I commend the Seymour Police Department for starting this program. They are working their butts off right now to get donations and to improve this because they believe in it so much.”
Susan and Andy encourage parents and caregivers with a child or adult who could benefit from Project Lifesaver to apply.
“People that are not on Project Lifesaver right now might think, ‘I don’t know about this,’” Andy said. “If they want information on it, call the police department or talk to somebody who’s already on it. They will see what kind of impact it makes. I think unless you live in that impact, you really can’t understand it unless you educate yourself. For me personally, it’s going to save lives. Just like the title says, Project Lifesaver.”
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Applications for Project Lifesaver may be downloaded online at seymourpd.com/lifesaver.htm.
For information about the program or to make a donation, call 812-522-1234 or email [email protected] or [email protected].