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Project Lifesaver: Saving Those With Autism, Other Disabilities

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Children with autism often move away from search teams, not towards them. That’s one reason why a local law enforcement agency is trying to get the word out about “Project Lifesaver.”

Ramsey County has been using Project Lifesaver for about 10 years. It’s designed for people with Autism, Down Syndrome or Alzheimer’s. It’s as simple as it looks, yet the set-up is responsible for saving lives.

“If they are on Project Lifesaver, we can track them. We can find them,” said Sgt. Phil Chelstrom of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department.

The child or adult wears a wrist-watched size transmitter at all times. It sends out a radio pulse every second. If the person goes missing, the radio receiver can find them within one mile. It gets louder as it gets closer.

“We have found people who have wandered away, Alzheimer’s people who have wandered into office buildings and hidden in somebody’s office after hours,” said Randy Gustafson of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department. “As you get closer to this target, it never fails.”

WCCO-TV tested that theory at the Ramsey County patrol station. We hid a transmitter, also known as a personal locating unit, from Chelstrom. But within a matter of minutes he found it.

“Whoever is wearing this personal locating unit, we will find them,” said Chelstrom.

Chelstrom said the problem is a lot of families still don’t know about Project Lifesaver. If they did, a day-long search could be done in less than a half-hour.

“This works, and again, you can find him within 20 to 30 minutes,” said Chelstrom.

Ramsey County now has about 30 clients on Project Lifesaver.

It costs $99 to set up, and then $30 a month after that, which includes a battery change every month.

Chelstrom said there are programs that off-set the costs for families that need it. So, in some cases, it is free.

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