LAYTON -- When a person with special needs wanders away or gets lost, it may take hours for them to be found. A new device demonstrated Thursday at the Layton Police Department may shorten that time to just minutes.
Layton Police Department is teaming up with EmFinders to help locate missing persons with autism, Alzheimer's or other dementia.
Police Chief Terry Keefe said his department has responded to many missing special needs cases. The department spent over 425 hours searching for people with Alzheimer's, dementia and autism from June 1, 2010, through July 1, 2011, Keefe stated.
"We have spent hundreds of manhours and lots of resources," he said during a news conference.
"We started looking for technology available to serve that population and something that would save taxpayer's dollars," said Police Lt. Garret Atkin.
During that search, the department found EmFinders, a company that began five years ago.
Harry Smeenk of EmFinders was in his Dallas home watching TV when he saw a report of a missing person who had cognitive impairment. He decided to come up with a device that would help law enforcement and families locate wanderers. That's how the EmSeeQ device, which uses the E 9-1-1 system to locate and recover a missing person in just minutes, was invented.
The metal device requires two hands to open it so a person wearing it cannot remove it. It is water resistant, shock proof and can be recharged in less than two hours.
When a caregiver or parent calls the EmFinder number, the device is activated.
"It is the world's smallest phone. It is a one-way phone that does not vibrate or make noise. It gives the longitude and latitude on a mapping system," explained Sheenk. "If the person continues to move, it can follow that person. It is constantly updating where that person is."
Sheenk said the device is a time- and money-saver for law enforcement.
On Thursday, a police officer put on the device and rode away on a bicycle. Sheenk took the role of a caregiver or family member and notified EmFinders that a person was missing, telling them he wanted to activate the device.
Once the device was activated, more information is gathered from the caller. Once found, the location of the device shows up on a map on a screen in the dispatch center. If the person wearing the device moves, the location is automatically refreshed every 20 to 25 seconds.
Laura Anderson, who has an 11-year-old child with autism and is also on the Autism Council of Utah, is excited about the new device.
"I am so excited to finally see it and how it works. I see a benefit to our families," Anderson said. "I love the fact that it is compact and doesn't draw attention."
Anderson said her son used to walk into homes, get into cars and even walk onto the freeway. She feels the device will bring peace of mind to families of children and adults who are not verbal.
The device costs $199, plus $25 a month for the service.
"Twenty-five dollars a month is nothing to be able to locate a child. It's priceless," Anderson said.
"This is much more robust than anything I've seen. The cost doesn't compare to the comfort of knowing kids are found safe and quickly. This has tremendous value," said James Vaughan of the Autism Council of Utah, who has an 11-year-old son with autism.
Because of the partnership between EmFinders and Layton, the devices were donated to the department. The device will remain the property of Layton Police Department but will be loaned to families who have someone who would benefit from using one.
The family would pay the monthly fee while the LPD will retain ownership of the device, he said. The department has 10 devices for use.