Sheriff offers tracking service for people prone to becoming lost

WILLMAR -- A new device that can be used to track people who may become lost due to mental, physical or health problems is now available for use in Kandiyohi County.

WILLMAR -- A new device that can be used to track people who may become lost due to mental, physical or health problems is now available for use in Kandiyohi County.

The Sheriff's office, with funding accrued from its driving awareness courses, has purchased equipment that helps track people who may suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other related disorders, or have developmental disorders such as autism -- any disease or disorder that makes sufferers prone to wander and potentially become lost. The program is free of cost to those who want to use it, Sheriff Dan Hartog said.

The county purchased the equipment from Project Lifesaver International, which directs the nationwide program. Project Lifesaver was started in 1999 in Chesapeake, Va. Since that time it has grown to be in 41 states. There have been 1,254 missing people nationwide that have been found using the system.

So far 100 percent of those who wandered away were found alive, according to Project Lifesaver.

Average recovery time without the system can be more than nine hours. However, with the system, the average recovery time is 22 minutes.


Kandiyohi County is one of four counties in the state that are implementing the program. Morrison, Lake and Cook counties are also using it.

Families or caretakers of people who might benefit from the program can sign up through the Sheriff's Office. People living in assisted living situations or in private residences can take part. However, nursing home residents can't participate as most nursing homes already have systems in place.

People who participate in the program get a transmitter device, which can be worn as a bracelet, an anklet, in clothing or as a necklace.

The device has a battery and a transmitter which gives out its distinct frequency pulse.

When a person gets lost, officers use an antenna to track that distinct frequency pulse. The antenna detects a "pulse" from the transmitter and then the officer can follow the pulse, which gets louder the closer they get.

The antennae have a radius of nearly one mile, according to Cpl. Jason Keith with the Sheriff's Office.

"It's very important that the caretaker be proactive," he said. If a person leaves, caretakers need to call deputies as soon as possible.

One downside is that the transmitter needs to be checked daily. Also, batteries need to be changed once a month, which will be done free of charge by deputies, Hartog said.


Sharon Cola, a registered nurse at Pleasant View-Bethesda's memory unit, which works with Alzheimer's patients, says Alzheimer's sufferers tend to wander away in the first and middle stages of the disease.

"It's part of the disease process," she said. They feel urges to go home or they sometimes just wander off for no reason, she said. Unfortunately, they usually don't remember how to get back.

"If you are in a house, and they are up in the middle of the night, they can get up and go outside into the snow," she said. It can be dangerous.

Pleasant View has its own security system for monitoring patients, she said. She thinks the county's program could be a good step in terms of safety, as long as it is not personally invasive.

Hartog said he heard about Project Lifesaver two years ago, but wasn't sure at that time where his office could find the funding for it.

However, when the office started its driver awareness course, it provided a funding source. The awareness course allows drivers facing a citation to take a one-night course for a fee, instead of paying the fine and having the citation go on their driving record.

The course helped pay the nearly $12,000 cost of getting the equipment for the program.

Keith and fellow Sheriff's Office Cpl. Erik Lilleberg trained with the tracking devices. They also received training in interacting with the people who may use the program and understanding the health conditions affecting them. Keith and Lilleberg have taught six other deputies at the Sheriff's Office how to use the tracking devices.


Right now, there are 22 transmitters for 22 people, Hartog said.

Anyone interested in signing up for the program should call the Sheriff's Office at (320) 214-6700, extensions 3325 or 3327. Donations for the program are accepted.

To learn more about the program visit or .

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