Effingham Co. Sheriff's Office looking for Project Lifesaver funding

EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - It's a program that helps families reunite with loved ones who have Autism, Alzheimer's, and other developmental disorders who have gone missing.

Project Lifesaver is an international program that's had a local presence right here in the Coastal Empire. The Effingham County Sheriff's Office is also involved, but may not be for much longer because of funding struggles.

Project Lifesaver has been in Effingham County since 2010. Depleted funds could mean the program will cease to serve families in Effingham County soon. Project LifeSaver uses tracking bracelets that can be fitted around the ankle, for example. If someone goes missing, the sheriff's office or other agencies with the tracking technology can use the device to pick up the bracelet's signal.

That equipment costs money, though; money the sheriff's office is just about out of.

Outdated transmitters cost $1,000 apiece to replace, and each bracelet costs $300 for a year's worth of service. Without these updates, searches could take much longer and be less successful.

"It used to take a lot longer to track somebody, and usually by that point it's too late. With the program, we've got a higher success rate of successfully locating our clients before something bad happens," said ECSO Cpl. Kathy Dillard.

Pauline Shaw's daughter, Dakota, has a severe form of Autism and is considered non-conversational, which means she wouldn't respond to rescuers calling her name if she got lost.

"People in Effingham, being it's all so rural and there's a lot of woods, there's a lot of water. Our people need this," Shaw said.

SInce 2010, she has used the Project Lifesaver technology through the Effingham County Sheriff's Office. Dakota and about two-dozen other program participants in Effingham County get a bracelet that produces a radio frequency that can be tracked by technology the sheriff's office owns.

"It's funded predominantly by donations from citizens, and the sheriff's office picks up the slack of where we come up short," Cpl. Dillard said.

The sheriff's office spends about $5,000 every two years on equipment and supplies for the program, but can't anymore without donations. For parents like Shaw, losing Project Lifesaver would mean losing that piece of mind knowing that should something happen to her daughter, the search wouldn't take long.

"It's life-saving. That's why it's called Project Lifesaver, but it's crucial to preserving our kids and our older people's lives."

For more information about Lifesaver or to donate to the program, click here.

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