2005-08-11 / Front Page

A way to bring the missing back home

Middlesex County signs on with Project Lifesaver tracking system

Staff Writer

WOODBRIDGE — Jay and Barbara Sidrer are ever vigilant.

They have to be. The Colonia couple has twin 10-year-old autistic sons, one of whom has a tendency to wander. Their house is almost in lockdown.

“It’s tough,” Jay Sidrer said. “Basically, our house is locked up. We have to keep our front door double-bolted, but now they are almost to the height where they can get to that.”

So the couple was happy to hear that the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders last week approved a $10,000 contract with Project Lifesaver to purchase 30 tracking bracelets and tracking systems for two Middlesex County sheriff’s cars.

“It’s an added feature that helps us,” Sidrer said.

The Sidrers wrote to the freeholders earlier this year to ask if the county could provide the program. The couple first discovered Project Lifesaver when they watched a home makeover show that featured a deaf family that also had an autistic child with a penchant for running away.

“They had no way of knowing when he would leave the house,” Jay Sidrer said. “We looked into it and purchased the system ourselves for our house.”

Project Lifesaver International, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization, provides the program to public safety and government organizations.

So far, the organization claims a 100 percent recovery rate, with most people found within 30 minutes of being reported missing, according to Project Lifesaver’s Web site.

“Most of the counties in New Jersey have them,” Sidrer said. “They [Project Lifesaver] sent the paperwork on it, and Middlesex County wasn’t one of them. We wrote a letter to the freeholders with all the information about Project Lifesaver. They said it would be something useful and they took over.”

The project is expected to get under way sometime in the fall, after the county Department of Human Services and the county Office on Aging finishes the outreach for people who might need the bracelets, like Alzheimer’s patients and autistic children, county Administrator Walter A. De Angelo said.

The purchase price also includes a six-month supply of batteries for the bracelets. The batteries must be changed once a month, De Angelo said.

The radio frequency technology involved with the bracelets and tracking devices is “fairly old,” said Robert Recine, senior systems analyst with the county’s information technology department.

“The batteries last much longer with this,” he said. “The bracelet almost looks like a wristwatch, but it’s a plastic case, with a round piece about the size of a watchface on the inside of it.”

The bracelets are primarily worn on the wrist, although some autistic children wear them on the ankle, he said.

“It’s tough for them to learn something new or different,” he said. “On adults it works on the wrists.”

The bracelets are difficult for the person to remove once they are on, he said.

“The band is not easily removable,” he said. “You have to have something to remove it with. I won’t say it’s never happened, but it doesn’t happen often.”

A sheriff’s officer will go out to the person’s home once a month to change the battery, Recine said.

“They will be monitoring it,” he said. “It also helps for them to get to know the individual. They can build a bit of history on them.”

Each wristband has a transmitter that emits a tracking signal every second, 24 hours a day. Each bracelet also has a unique radio frequency, according to the organization’s Web site.

Two sheriff’s cars will be outfitted with the receiving units, along with hand-held devices, Recine said.

“They emit a beeping sound,” he said. “The closer you get to the wristband, the louder the sound gets. It’s pretty simple. The idea is when someone goes missing, they make a phone call. The sheriff’s officer will go to the last known location of the person and start to search from there.”

The program will be open to anyone in Middlesex County, primarily Alzheimer’s patients and autistic children, De Angelo said.

The county tracking system will be an extra measure of security for the Sidrers.

Even though the Sidrers already have a smaller version of the tracking device the county will have in place, they welcome the additional protection the county program will offer.

“We live right near Union County,” he said. “Without Middlesex County having their own alarm system, Union County won’t get involved.

Their son takes off about once every two months now, Sidrer said.

“It used to be every chance he got when he was younger. He’s getting faster and we’re getting older. It’s getting a little more difficult.”

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