Project Lifesaver Huron

22 Jan Project Lifesaver Huron

Huron County Paramedic Services is excited about the newest addition to their Community Paramedicine Program. Earlier this year, we were approached by the Huron detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police to become the host of Project Lifesaver.

This program was started in Virginia, USA in 1999 in response to the growing correlation of those with cognitive disorders — individuals such as those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Acquired Brain Injury, PTSD or Downs syndrome — and those who were reported missing. Project Lifesaver International is a community based, public safety, non-profit organization whose motto is “bringing loved ones home.”

There are a growing number of municipalities in Ontario where this service provided either by the Alzheimer’s Society, Victim Services or a volunteer agency but none of those agencies in Huron County had the capacity to host the program. We felt it was a natural fit for our Community Paramedicine program which is pro-active, preventative and pre-emergency care.

As with our Cool Aid program, Wellness clinics in all County housing units and Paramedic referrals to both the Home and Community Support Teams (LHIN) and Family Health Teams or Community Health Centres, Project Lifesaver provided another opportunity for Paramedic Services to be pro-active.
The initial journey to launch Project Lifesaver started with research into what it was about and was there anything comparable in Canada. The research revealed that any similar systems in Canada were copies of the original technology but not as reliable. Existing hosts of Project Lifesaver assist the newest members in navigating what supports are needed, how the program operates and the funds required. We were fortunate to have this support from Guelph – Wellington.


Due to the liability of using such a system and the expectations of the caregivers, we had to ensure that the contracts we sign with participants make it very clear the equipment is designed to be a technology tool to help locate the missing person but there is no warranty or guarantee that the person will be found. In effect, it is another intervention that may work for those who wander and become loss and give their caregivers some peace of mind. It is not a substitute for responsible caregiving. All agreements and contracts were vetted by our legal counsel and risks were mitigated to the best of our abilities.

The participant wears a one-ounce transmitter, similar to a wristwatch that emits a signal every second. This battery powered transmitter uses FM radio frequency. The signal is not audible to the participant or anyone near them. It is only detected by the unique receiver system the OPP have. The transmitter is water resistant and can be worn while the participant showers/bathes or swims.
If the participant goes missing, the caregiver calls 911 and asks for police. They provide the missing person’s name, address and the unique identification number on the transmitter. The OPP receives this information and enters it into their locating device called a “receiver.” Starting from the place where the person was last seen, they work in an outward circle until the person is located. The receiver can detect the signal up to 2 km on the ground and up to 7 km if an air search is conducted.

There are benefits to using radio frequency as opposed to GPS. The following exerts from the blog of the founder of Project Lifesaver International, Chief Gene Saunders, posted on September 27, 2017 clarify the use of FM radio technology:
“All GPS enabled locating devices require cell coverage to function properly, even with the slightest coverage interruption; the GPS could malfunction or delay causing inaccuracies. Radio frequency is old but it has proven repeatedly to be the most reliable and accurate technology” as it is not diminished by the terrain or obstacles. Another observation from Chief Saunders it that radio technology was created in a time when we were “unplugged”. It is not dependent on cell phone towers or weather conditions. He also mentions the immense destruction in Puerto Rico and how much of the island is still without power, months after Hurricane Maria. “Without power, GPS technology fails, is that the type of technology you want to be using to keep your loved ones safe?”

When the participant is registered in the program, an extensive interview is completed to capture a snapshot of who the person is. Along with their name and address we would like to know their routine, where they worked, if they have recently moved, their habits and their haunts — favourite coffee shops, favourite places to visit. We also record a physical description and obtain a current photo. This information is kept in the Community Paramedicine office and a copy is provided to the OPP, Huron Detachment. When the person is reported missing, this information is necessary for the officers to initiate an incidence report and then begin the search.
The caregiver must agree to contact Police through 911 each and every time the person goes missing; even if they are only missing for a few minutes.

Project Lifesaver International has a website where they track every search they have conducted. As of December 2017, they had 3369 successful searches with an average time of 30 minutes.

Project Lifesaver is very strict in their guidelines and training for any agency wanting to participate. The OPP officers must complete a 2 day training session in order to become Certified Electronic Search Specialists. The training includes hands on use of the equipment but also includes training on how to communicate and approach someone with Alzheimer, dementia or Autism.
The equipment is the property of the host agency and is loaned to the participant. There is a one- time set up fee of $400.00 which is non-refundable plus $10.00/month for battery replacement and wristband changes. If this fee is an obstacle, we offer a payment plan of $43.72 for 12 months and then $10.00/ month afterwards.

Along with agreeing to call 911 each time the person runs away or goes missing, the caregiver also agrees to test the battery each day and log the results on the forms provided. These logs are collected and retained as part of the documentation on each participant. If the person goes missing, it is important to know when the battery was last changed as that will identify the remaining battery life.

Every 60 days or sooner if necessary, the participant and caregiver will meet either our Community Paramedicine Coordinator or a Superintendent at the closest base for the battery change and to collect the battery test log. If there are extenuating circumstances such as lack of transportation, then a home visit may be considered.

At this time, there is no funding assistance from either the Assistive Devices Program or private insurance providers. Huron County Paramedic Services will not be actively fundraising for this equipment but we will be available for presentations at local service groups such as the Lions Club, Rotary International or the Royal Canadian Legion. In other communities, these service groups have funded the units and removed the financial burden from the participant and their family.

We were able to launch Project Lifesaver Huron through generous donations from Goderich Place Retirement Home, (a Retirement Life Community) in Goderich where several residents will benefit from this technology and Bruce Power, through their Community Investments Program. Alzheimer’s of Huron County has also been supportive of this initiative and we anticipate referrals will come from them.

There is a strict requirement that no one will enter into Project Lifesaver with the intention of making profit. Therefore, all money raised goes toward purchasing a unit for another person. The treasury department in Huron County handles the invoicing so our administrative duties are limited to information gathering, completing the contracts and teaching the caregiver how to use and care for the equipment.

Even as we were preparing to launch Project Lifesaver Huron, new technology was being developed and released by Project Lifesaver International. New products included a personal wandering locator to be used by those who travel and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones. This latest technology allows for rapid deployment without needing a trained crew onboard. The training for using a UAV includes another 3 days training for OPP search and rescue team operators in addition to their initial Electronic Search Specialists training. We are fortunate that Huron OPP already have access to a drone for search and rescue events.

We look forward to a successful collaboration with the Huron Detachment of the OPP and providing a valuable service for residents of our County.