Finding the missing gets easier with Project Lifesaver


Following the decision to implement measures to better locate missing people, seven Iowa City police officers received training in Project Lifesaver last week, and equipment will soon be distributed. The nonprofit group has trained the officers who will now teach others in the department.

Project Lifesaver is the only certified training program in the country for agencies on the task of finding missing people. The program is meant to protect those with certain mental challenges such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease, and it offers a 100 percent chance in finding a person, which is done by continually decreasing the area that needs to be searched and pinpointing where the bracelet is located, according to the press release.

Sgt. Derek Frank of the Iowa City police partook in the two-day training, in which an instructor hid in a building in downtown Iowa City. Frank said the group of officers was called to locate the instructor with the equipment, which at longest took 22 minutes.

“We would establish how long they have been gone, determine their direction of travel, and we would go to the area to use the receiver and try to find a receiver to the signal,” he said.

Without the equipment, finding someone may take hours, Frank said.

He said those who wish to sign up for the program receive a thick bracelet that is difficult to remove.

Frank said descriptors such as the color of clothing or physical features are not very effective in populated areas such as in downtown.

“You have to deal with lots of foot traffic and buildings [when searching]. We learned to rely on the equipment more,” Frank said.

The program comes from a federal grant in which the police have received a one-time $12,000 grant. Sgt. Doug Hart, an administrator responsible for the grant, said hiring the instructor for the program cost $1,500, and $4,500 has been spent on transmitters, bracelets, and receivers for the searches.

The remaining approximately $6,000 will be used to pay for replacement bracelets and transmitters, Hart said.

“Our intent is to offer it to public at no charge,” he noted. “When it runs out, we can see what options are out there.”

In addition to learning how to use the equipment, officers are trained to address behavioral and communication challenges specific to people with cognitive conditions, which is a skill critical to gaining the missing person’s trust and facilitating a safe escort home, according to a press release from the police.

The department also held a community presentation on the system May 6 in City Hall’s Harvat Hall.

Frank said that when a person is missing for over 24 hours, there is a 50 percent chance they will not survive. The program demonstrates an average find-time of 30 minutes compared to a nine-hour average for a standard search and rescue mission.

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