Los Angeles County officials launched a program Wednesday to help locate people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who may wander off and go missing.
The program, called L.A. Found, will make use of bracelets that can be tracked through radio frequency by sheriff’s deputies. It will also create a new office, housed within the department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services, to coordinate a countywide response when somebody goes missing.
“If you get lost, we will help find you,” county Supervisor Janice Hahn, who championed the initiative, said at a news conference.
A family member or caretaker of an individual who has autism, Alzheimer’s, dementia or some other cognitive impairment can apply for a bracelet through L.A. Found. Once approved, they can purchase a bracelet at a cost of $325 from the nonprofit organization Project Lifesaver, which works with municipalities to apply the location technology.
The bracelet transmits an inaudible electronic tone to a receiver that can pick up the signal within a mile on the ground, or within two to five miles from a helicopter, and lead searchers to within inches of the device.
“This technology literally enables lost loved ones to communicate their location to us,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at the news conference.
According to the Alzheimer’s Assn., 60% of people with dementia will wander off at some point. About half of all children with autism will do so, according to pediatrics research. Traffic and the potential for drowning pose grave risks.
The Glendale Police Department began using the technology in 2015 and has had 100% success in finding 15 individuals who disappeared so far, said Glendale police Sgt. Traci Fox.
One was a young, deaf man with autism who was found in a wash in Burbank, standing knee-deep in ice-cold water.
“We would never have found him otherwise,” Fox said in an interview, noting that the helicopter the department deployed picked up the tracking signal almost immediately after taking off.
Fox and others emphasized that technology is only one part of the equation, with training of law enforcement officers and better coordination among government agencies equally important.
The L.A. Found initiative grew out of the disappearance of Nancy Paulikas, a computer engineer from Manhattan Beach who went missing after a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in October 2016 and has still not been found.
Hahn, elected in November 2016, went to visit Paulikas’ husband, Kirk Moody.
“I began to understand what he and Nancy’s parents had been going through,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “They were every day calling the coroner. They every day were going to a new nursing home handing out flyers. They were calling hospitals. Manhattan Beach Police Department was [the] only law enforcement entity that was trying to help them. I thought we could do better as a county.”
Hahn created the “Bringing our loved ones home” task force, which came up with a series of recommendations, including using the trackable bracelets, which were approved by the Board of Supervisors earlier this year.
“The only thing that keeps me hopeful about the ability of this program is that Nancy’s husband says if she had been wearing a bracelet, she would be home by now,” Hahn said.