Teaming up with International Project Lifesaver means those who wander may not end up lost

After years of experience working in search and rescue, Renfrew Lion Bob Boyer in Canada knew first-hand the fear that sets in for families when a loved one goes missing. So, when a caller suggested his club support the nonprofit International Project Lifesaver (IPL), Boyer says, “It lit a fire under me.”

Project Lifesaver, founded in Virginia in 1999, locates at-risk wanderers, oftentimes vulnerable seniors suffering with dementia, through a wristwatch with an electronic tracking system. The organization, headquartered in Florida, is active in all 50 states and parts of Canada.

Boyer set out determined to get the program going in his area about 60 miles outside Ottawa, but the cost can run from US$4,000 to more than US$10,000 depending on the number of transmitters or bracelets needed for clients, and the size of the area represented. It was more than his club of 14 could afford alone. But he remained a man on a mission, giving presentations to the clubs around him for support.

Lions clubs in Arnprior, Calabogie, Douglas, and Beachburg came on board and contributed US$3,000 each, and with the help of the Dementia Society of Ottawa and the Renfrew Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), they put the lifesaving program into place.

Project Lifesaver uses technology to locate at-risk people who have wandered away.

Boyer, president of the Renfrew club, says despite an eight-month COVID-19 delay, they are now in operation.

“It’s an exceptionally good system with a signal that goes through walls and forests. I’ve seen it in operation,” he says. “The advanced equipment allows them to do a precise and expedient rescue, even if an individual wandered off into a heavily wooded area.”

Representatives from IPL work with municipalities, personally training law enforcement and first responders who answer the call when a person goes missing. Through a computer database, rescuers can immediately bring up the name, address, and description of the missing person enrolled in the program and go directly to the wanderer’s area. Technology gets them 1.5 miles from the person wearing the transmitter on either their wrist or ankle, then the equipment picks up the individualized frequency signal emitted from the bracelet, further helping locate the wanderer.

Recovery times average 30 minutes.

Lions across the U.S. and into Canada support the project financially and oftentimes by volunteering to change batteries or bracelets for families. Boyer plans to continue his efforts to spread word about the non-profit.

“We are extremely thankful for the support of the Lions,” says IPL spokesperson Samantha Rush. “It is kind of expensive, but it’s lifesaving, and we have a 100 percent success rate. It’s a program, not a product.”