‘Project Lifesaver' can help families reunite with missing loved ones

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PITTSBURGH —

“It's scary to be a parent and have your child wander away,” said Meghan Hyland.  “Emily has left our house six times in the past three weeks.”
               
Meghan’s 11-year-old daughter, Emily, faces a long list of medical conditions, including autism.
 
“We have locks up high; we have door alarms; she knows how to do it,” said Hyland.
 
A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that 49 percent of autistic children wander. The Alzheimer's Association says 60 percent of adults with dementia will walk away from home.  But now, families like Emily's are finding hope in a little bracelet and a big show of support from the Allegheny County District Attorney's office.
 
It's called "Project Lifesaver" and Officer James Williams of Munhall Police is helping to launch a countywide task force.  Channel 11 was there as police officers got their first lesson in how it works.  A battery pack bracelet is worn by the person who tends to wander.  It sends a radio signal to a receiver.  Then, once the missing person call goes out, police start searching for that signal.
 
“This is like a fancy game of hot and cold,” said Williams.
 
“I’m in; just throw me in,” said Patrolman Scott Bailey of Aspinwall police.  “Both of my boys are autistic ... it's more personal.”
 
With Emily's help, Channel 11's Katherine Amenta got to see the device in action.  She found a hiding spot in the forest with Emily and her little brother, Ryan.  Then she waited to see how long it took for them to find them. Williams listened for a "beep."  The closer you got to the missing person, the stronger the beep.
 
About 200 yards and less than five minutes later, they found the them.
 
“This is…the thing we can turn to when all else fails,” said Hyland.
 
Approved families in Allegheny County will start getting the bracelets over the next few weeks.  It won't cost taxpayers anything.  The program is being completely funded with money seized from drug busts in the county.
 
For more information, contact your local police department.