A recent incident of a Sequim area Alzheimer’s patient wandering away from his home and getting lost could have come to a very sad end, but thanks to a special program that the Sequim Police Department and Clallam County Sheriff’s Office are participating in, it was quickly brought to a positive resolution.
On June 29, Clifford Commeree left his home and his wife, Juanita, couldn’t find him. She called the sheriff’s department for help, and because Commeree is a client of the Project Lifesaver program in Clallam County, officers were able to come out and locate him within half an hour of their arrival.
“Project Lifesaver can be so valuable,” said Sequim Police Department representative Tiffany Banning, who helps oversee the project in the Sequim area.
According to Banning, Project Lifesaver has been available in Clallam County since 2006, when the Guerin family set up a foundation to pay for the project’s services in order to make it available to residents in the county. The program is also supported by community donations that help buy new transmitters, and the batteries for them.
A national non-profit program, Project Lifesaver isn’t available in all areas due to the costs and opt-in nature of it, but it’s been available for the last 13 years in Clallam County, and according to Banning it’s lived up to its name.
“We’ve had three cases where we’ve been called out and found the missing person,” Banning said. On average, according to Banning, the time from the call requesting help to locating the Project Lifesaver client has been just under half an hour.
Lorraine Shore, the Administrative Coordinator at the Sheriff’s Office who runs Project Lifesaver there, said that there have been five rescues through the Sheriff’s Office, all of which were under half an hour from the time of the call.
“Four of them were in dire situations,” Shore said, saying that because of the situations those people were in, more traditional search methods may have been too slow to save their lives.
The way Project Lifesaver works is fairly simple. Clients who are signed up for the service are fitted with a radio transmitter bracelet roughly the size of a watch. Each transmitter has its own unique frequency that it transmits, so when a call is made that a client is missing, officers just have to pick up the tracking equipment from the station and start searching for that client’s frequency.
Sequim Police Department officers are trained on how to use the equipment by Maris Larsen, the department officer that has been trained and certified herself by s Project Lifesaver representative. She also trains volunteers who go out and change the batteries in the clients’ transmitters, which are replaced once every 30 days in order to keep operating.
According to Shore, Deputy Matt Murphy is their official Sheriff’s Office instructor for the program, with Sergeant Ed Anderson overseeing the execution and maintenance of the program in the west end of the county.
The Sequim Police Department covers the Sequim area, plus out west to Deer Park Road. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office covers from Deer Park Road all the way out west to Forks. According to Banning, the Sequim Police Department currently has 13 Project Lifesaver clients, while Shore says that the Sheriff’s Office typically has around 10.
Becoming a client is relatively inexpensive — a one-time $50 fee for the transmitter — but the requirements and paperwork are a little more comprehensive.
“It’s a pretty involved application process,” Banning said. “It’s a 16-page application, and it covers everything.”
Banning says that potential Project Lifesaver clients need to have a medical basis for signing up. Conditions that make someone prone to wandering and forgetting what they’re doing or where they are are obvious factors, and that can even apply to residents of assisted living facilities.
Shore said that children with conditions like Down Syndrome or serious cases of autism where similar wandering can happen can also qualify for Project Lifesaver.
More than that, though, potential clients need to already be monitored by a caretaker or similar setup.
“There needs to be a caretaker, or a family member or some combination of those with a client at all times,” Banning said. The idea of Project Lifesaver, she added, isn’t that the program takes over monitoring someone who needs help, but to provide an extra layer of safety in case something does go wrong.
The application also asks for some relatively personal information about the potential client — things like what they like, their nicknames, their general attitudes and what irritates them. This is to help officers be able to better handle the person they’re looking for should they need to, because anything that lessens the potential concern of strangers in police uniforms approaching them can help ease the end of a search when a person is found, helping them feel more comfortable and secure while they get checked on and taken home.