BRIDGEWATER - The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office demonstrated a rescue drone Wednesday at the Somerset County Park Commission headquarters flying field on Milltown Road.
“The Project Lifesaver International Indago Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System drone will be an important adjunct to the Project Lifesaver program in Somerset County,” said Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano. “The current program provides a personalized wristband that emits a tracking signal to vulnerable Somerset County adults and children.”
The PLI Indago UAV System is a military-grade, quadrotor UAV designed specifically for the search and rescue of special-needs populations with cognitive disorders who are prone to the life-threatening behavior of wandering, including those with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, autism and Down syndrome.
The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office began Project Lifesaver in 2004. New Jersey became the first state in the country to have every Sheriff’s Office equipped and trained with Project Lifesaver in 2007, enabling sheriff’s offices across the state to assist other Project Lifesaver electronic search specialists in locating residents.
“We have had 12 search-and-rescue missions to date,” Provenzano said. “The Indago UAV will allow us to increase our capabilities in locating a client who has wandered. This new asset will give us the ability to search even more efficiently over a broader area and will increase the probability of a successful recovery."
“We currently have 40 clients on the program - 23 children who have autism or Down syndrome and 17 adults who have dementia,” he added.
The purchase was funded from the Sheriff’s Drug Enforcement Association forfeiture account consisting of federal monies seized from cooperative investigations with members of the Sheriff’s Office.
“The Somerset County NJ Sheriff’s Office is the first public safety agency in the country to adopt the PLI Indago UAV System,” said Project Lifesaver International CEO and founder Gene Saunders. “This type of innovative thinking and planning shows the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office’s commitment to the special-needs community and their dedication to protecting all in Somerset County.”
Chris Gibson, vice president of security and public safety for Sentera that makes the drone, said the drone has between 45 and 50 minutes of flight time, and uses a radio tracking antenna to track the wristband worn by the individual to be tracked. That then radios back the position to a ground team that can triangulate the signals.
“This is a win-win for the Sheriff’s Office and the residents of Somerset County for our agency to be able to assist the special-needs community with a tool of this significance,” Provenzano said. “The UAV system has greatly impacted search and rescue efforts in other parts of the country. We fully anticipate having the same positive results in our county during times of crisis when families need our services the most.”
Project Lifesaver is a program coordinated through the Somerset County Office on Aging & Disability Services and supported by the county Board of Chosen Freeholders. Families with loved ones at risk of wandering due to cognitive and learning disabilities can contact the OOA&DS for an assessment that determines program eligibility, assists families in understanding their loved one’s condition, and provides information on programs and services for which they may be eligible.
Upon acceptance into the program, clients wear a personalized bracelet that emits a signal that aids the Sheriff’s Office in locating the individual in an expeditious manner, should the need arise.
“Project LifeSaver provides extra support to caregivers and families in order to keep their loved one in the community,” said OOA&DS Executive Director Joanne Fetzko. “The hope is that the use of the UAV system will instill greater confidence in families, as it will improve the team’s ability to help save lives and fulfill the program’s mission of bringing loved ones home safely."
"Not only will the use of this equipment reduce search time and increase public safety, but it will do so without risking the safety of the rescue team and first responders, which is undeniably an invaluable benefit to the community,” she added.