Tracking program readied in county

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County is close to having a program online that will enable authorities to more easily find people with cognitive disabilities who wander away from home.

Hancock County commissioners learned on Thursday that a countywide version of Project Lifesaver will be ready to launch once the necessary equipment is ordered.

“We’re getting really close. There are still some things we have to sort out,” said Sgt. Liz Calmbacher of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserve. “We also have a list of potential clients who want to go into the program.”

Project Lifesaver enables participating law enforcement agencies to find missing persons in a more timely manner through the use of transmitters and receivers. It is especially for people who wander away from home because they have autism, Alzheimer’s disease or similar cognitive conditions.

Families that want to participate in Project Lifesaver must purchase a small personal transmitter, which is worn on the wrist or ankle. The transmitter emits a tracking signal that can be used by law enforcement agencies to find the missing person.

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserve, in cooperation with the West Virginia Northern Autism Community of the Autism Society, has taken the lead in bringing the program to the area. Organizers have been busy raising funds to pay for equipment and to subsidize families that can’t afford to buy or maintain the necessary equipment.

The cost per family is $300, plus a monthly maintenance fee.

Calmbacher told commissioners that Hancock County Project Lifesaver has agreed to use $6,000 to purchase 200 starter kits – complete with a transmitter, 12 bracelet bands, 12 batteries, 12 clips to hold the bracelet on, a battery tester and a custodial form for daily checking of the transmitter.

Each kit is enough to last a client one year, Calmbacher said. “We have to go to each client’s home to change the batteries every 30 days,” she said.

Hancock County Project Lifesaver currently is seeking corporate sponsorships and donations to help cover monthly maintenance costs.

“In other counties that have Project Lifesaver, a lot of people can’t even afford the $10 fee,” Calmbacher said.

While it is still seeking non-profit status, Hancock County Project Lifesaver has a $5,000 commitment from county commissioners and a $2,000 commitment from Sheriff Ralph Fletcher. The latter is a match for the $2,000 already raised by the Sheriff’s Reserve.

With that money, organizers have been able to purchase two portable receivers, two car antennae, two directional antennae, a six-month supply of batteries and other equipment, Calmbacher said.

Hancock County Project Lifesaver also has formed an eight-member advisory board.

Also Thursday, commissioners:

Authorized Robert Vidas, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications, to apply for a grant from the West Virginia Court Security Fund to purchase video cameras and an X-ray machine for the new Hancock County Magistrate Court.

Vidas told commissioners that bid packages for the new courthouse building and the adjacent parking lot should be ready by March 13, the next commissioners’ meeting. Commissioners bought the old New Cumberland Dollar General store in February 2013 and want to adapt the retail space for reuse as a judicial complex.

Learned that the 2014 Energy Express program in Hancock County needs 15 college students to work as mentors this summer. Energy Express, a remedial education program administered by the West Virginia University Extension Service, is staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers.

Energy Express mentors work for eight weeks in the summer and earn $10 an hour, said Carole Scheerbaum, WVU Extension agent for Hancock County. The Energy Express sites are at Oak Glen Middle School and Weir Middle School.

For more information, call Scheerbaum at (304) 564-3805.

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