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Project Lifesaver (Whatcom County Only)

Image by Catherine Martin-Dunlop
About Project Lifesaver

Project Lifesaver is an electronic technology program to locate missing persons. In partnership with the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office, DSNW serves as the local coordinating agency for Project Lifesaver (PLS) for those who wander. Enrollment in Project Lifesaver includes equipment maintenance, battery changes, and thanks to an anonymous donor, the upfront equipment costs are covered for each and every member.

Who is Project Lifesaver for?

Project Lifesaver is for anyone who might have a tendency to wander, but who might not have the ability to find their way home again. Many cognitive impairments may lead to wandering, including dementia, but also include autism, Down's syndrome, and those with traumatic brain injuries. 

How does it work?

Each one-ounce bracelet has a unique frequency that emits a signal twenty-four hours a day and is associated with a particular individual. The effective range of transmission is approximately a mile and a half. If or when a PLS participant goes missing, the Search and Rescue coordinator (a deputy sheriff) responds to the place where the individual was last seen and attempts to locate the signal from the bracelet. If he can do so, the individual is quickly found and returned to a safe environment. If he cannot hear the signal, he calls for the assistance of trained search and rescue volunteers who will search in a spiral fashion away from the point where the individual was last seen. When the signal is detected, they converge and locate the individual.

Nationally, the average search time for an Alzheimer’s patient drops from twelve hours to about thirty minutes using this technology. When you think of a ninety-pound, eighty-year-old grandmother outside in twenty degree weather in her nightgown, this reduction in search time can easily mean the difference between life and death.

Why not use GPS/Cellular?

GPS is a marvelous tool that, in certain cases, is very useful for locating people. The downside of GPS is that it needs to “see” the GPS satellites to function. Depending upon where a person may wander, a GPS signal could be shielded. For example, a concrete culvert would cut off GPS systems, but a radio frequency transmission would still be able to be detected. Also, GPS usually does not function inside of a building, but radio signals will penetrate the building’s walls and can be detected from the outside.

With the rise of smartphones, we get a lot of questions about using app-based tracking as well. Though these systems work well when inside cell coverage, there are a multitude of locations within Whatcom County where that coverage can be spotty at the best of times. Compounding the problem is the tendency for phones to not be regularly charged, particularly for those experiencing cognitive decline. PLS batteries have a lifespan of three months, and are changed on two month intervals to ensure that battery life never factors in to an efficient and effective search. 


If you prefer a GPS device, or a system using an existing smartphone, they are easy to find on the internet at such places as,, and, or on your devices app store.

Give us a call and find out if PLS may be a good fit for you and your loved one.

**For residents of Skagit County, we encourage enrollment in the CareTrak system, Skagit's PLS equivalent system.

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