With the snow and cold temperatures this winter, every second counts when someone goes missing.
A device called "Project Lifesaver" is helping families caring for loved ones who tend to wander off, and it is free of charge.
Carolyne Gilchrist cares for her 14-year-old granddaughter, Amber, who has a severe form of autism.
"It's totally different than raising a typical child. You are always challenged. Just when you think you have a handle on the situation, things change," said Gilchrist.
In 2005, during a trip to visit family in Medina, Amber wandered off into a rural area. Carolyne says luckily, Amber was found, however, the incident was frightening and eye-opening.
Amber became the first child in Ottawa County put on Project Lifesaver.
Clients wear a tracking device that looks like a wrist watch and emits a radio frequency. When a client goes missing, the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office is able to tune another device into the frequency. A sound is emitted when the device is turned the same direction as the missing individual and gets stronger as deputies draw near.
"If we know that our client is in this direction and we turn that receiver, it gets weaker. As we come back, it gets stronger, and it gets weaker," said Ottawa County Sheriff Stephen Levorchick as he demonstrated how the device works. "We know we have to walk in that direction to find that person."
Project Lifesaver was the tool used to located a 79-year-old man with dementia in Ottawa County back in August of 2012. According to Sheriff Levorchick, the client who walked away from his home was just two blocks from both Lake Erie and one of the busiest railroad tracks in the area. Deputies found the man through his tracking device about a half mile from his home, sitting in a front yard.
Gilchrist sews the device into Amber's clothing each day before school and her pajamas every night before bed due to sensitivity issues Amber had with wearing the device.
Gilchrist says she does not view it as a hassle, but rather a relief, knowing the device is keeping Amber safe.
"It didn't take away from the fact that I needed to keep track of her, and I needed to be vigilant," said Gilchrist. "It gave me another layer of protection, knowing that if the unforeseeable would happen, that I would have backup," said Gilchrist.
Families who use Project Lifesaver are given the transmitter for free, and a deputy stops by regularly to check the battery. Families are asked to donate $10 monthly to pay for the battery, however, no family in Ottawa County has been turned away if they are unable to afford the monthly donation. Project Lifesaver is funded through community donations.
Sheriff Levorchick has made it his mission to spread Project Lifesaver to multiple counties throughout northwest Ohio. He says that by other sheriff's offices having access to the device, it is useful for families that may travel outside of their county with a wandering loved one.
"We really are our brother's keepers," said Levorchick. "If we don't take care of our families, our friends, our community members who can't take care of themselves, then we've failed. Not only them, but we've failed ourselves," said Levorchick.
Through his efforts, Project Lifesaver is now offered is several neighboring counties, even as far as Wood County. Lucas County is in the process of initiating Project Lifesaver as well.
To learn more about Project Lifesaver in Ottawa County or make a donation, click here.
To find a Project Lifesaver program near your home, click here.
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