WAMPSVILLE — When it comes to the safety of at-risk friends and loved ones, it’s better to have protection and not need it than need it and not have it.
On Nov. 13, 2019, the search for missing Oneida woman Nancy Stratton turned tragic. The 79-year-old woman was found in a field off of Lenox Avenue in Oneida, having succumbed to frigid temperatures. Stratton was designated a missing vulnerable person, as they were diagnosed with dementia.
Project Lifesaver is a nationwide program working to help at-risk people should they go missing. Clients include the elderly as well as children with autism, down syndrome, and people with traumatic brain injuries and developmental delays.
“The program was started in 2009 and is dedicated to reuniting families with their loved ones who have wandered,” Madison County Todd Hood. “The average person is usually found with a mile of their residence. And what Project Lifesaver does is equip a person with an identification band around their wrist and should something happen, we come in with a deployable antenna and can figure out where that person is.”
Law enforcement officials emphasize how important it is to find someone as soon as possible and with Project Lifesaver, that time can be cut down to 30 minutes. There is a common misconception that people must wait 24 hours to be able to file a missing persons report — police urge people to call as soon as possible.
Stephen Laureti, director of administrative services Madison County Sheriff’s Office, said the cost to enroll someone in Project Lifesaver in Madison County is $350. “It covers the cost of the bracelet and the transmitter along with one year’s supply of batteries,” Laureti said. “A deputy comes out every month to change the battery. You get someone who comes out and checks it and maintains it.” After the first year, it costs $10 a month to cover the battery cost.
Sergeant Kevin Feola is the deputy in charge of Project Lifesaver in Madison County and says the ground antenna can track to around 3 to 5 miles open and when deployed in the air on helicopter, the antenna can pick up 10 miles.
Madison County recently received a total of $5,000 from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America to help the Madison County Sheriff’s Office update their supplies and equipment.
Laureti said that those with financial difficulties shouldn’t be dissuaded from applying. “We can get them in touch with the right resources depending on the person’s age, like the Office of the Aging,” he said.
“We’ve had several incidents in Madison County through the years where people have wandered off and we’ve had to start searches,” Hood said. “Call the teams, call the fire department, and call search and rescue to get people out there look, especially in adverse conditions. Even in the summer, if it’s been raining hypothermia can set in. For the Oneida woman, I think it was 13 degrees that night.”
Hood said it’s a horrible situation for people to find themselves in should their loved ones wander off and something like Project Lifesaver adds another layer of protection.
Feola said it’s fortunate that the Madison County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t had to use Project Lifesaver but has signed people up who had wandered that were found by law enforcement.
“We’ve gotten these people signed up with the program and we haven’t had to use it since and we haven’t had to locate anyone,” Feola said. He added that should the worst happen in the future and they go missing, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office will be able to find them quickly.
Hood said Project Lifesaver is offered exclusively through the sheriff’s offices of New York state and that any New York resident who wants to sign up can do so by visiting their local sheriff’s office.
Madison County residents can find more information on Project Lifesaver or learn how to sign up at www.madisoncounty.ny.gov/1498/Project-Lifesaver