GREENFIELD — When a little boy with autism wandered away from his home earlier this month, hundreds of public safety officers and good Samaritans descended on New Palestine to aid the search.
The child was found safe and sound nearly four hours later, but rescuers say that time frame could have been drastically shortened if a program already available in Greenfield was opened to the entire county.
In 2007, GPD purchased Care Trak, a telemetry-based locating system that uses radio frequencies to track people who have gone missing. The system is intended for anyone who has a tendency to wander, such as elderly patients with dementia or children with special needs, like the boy in New Palestine.
To date, the program has been open to families only in Greenfield. The Aug. 2 incident told emergency responders that needs to change.
“I think through what happened, we hope to expand this, to use this to kind of springboard it to get to county usage,” Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.
Greenfield Police Department Chief John Jester approached Shepherd the night the boy wandered off.
As hundreds of peole joined the search, Jester couldn’t help thinking how much easier it would be if the boy, a perfect candidate for Care Trak, could be located with the help of technology.
“Knowing that we had this tool, and it wasn’t being utilized countywide, there’s automatically a fear there,” Jester said. “One, is this kid going to be found tonight? Is this kid going to be safe when we find him? What’s going to be said to the parents if for some reason he’s not safe when we find him?”
Jester approached Shepherd about expanding the system to serve families throughout Hancock County. Shepherd was immediately on board, but officials say such an expansion is not without cost.
The Greenfield Police Department currently has 10 transmitters; that number would need to be at least doubled to offer the program county wide. Each transmitter is about $400, and batteries, which are replaced monthly, are $6 each.
Jester said he’s hoping the public will see the benefits of the equipment and help with the expense.
“This is one of those where we truly see a need for it,” he said. “We see a perfect circumstance where it could have been used and used effectively.
The small transmitter, which cannot be easily removed by the person wearing it, emits a radio signal every 30 seconds. That signal can be tracked by a portable receiver if the person unexpectedly wanders away.
Police track the missing person by following a chirping noise that increases in intensity as they near the transmitter. The transmitter has a one-mile radius on the ground and a five-mile radius by air.
Patrolman Chuck McMichael, one of the officers who oversees the program, said Care Trak can put a family’s mind at ease if a loved one walks away unexpectedly.
“It’s huge,” he said. “You figure that the child we had missing took 3½ hours from the time of dispatch to the time he was found. With the Care Trak system, the average nationwide location time is 30 minutes.”
The department plans to give a demonstration of the equipment at the upcoming Fire and Light Safety Open House Sept. 27 at the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department.
HOW TO HELP
The Greenfield Police Department is seeking donations to purchase additional Care Trak units, which uses radio frequencies to track loved ones who have wandered away. Donations may be mailed or dropped off to the Greenfield Police Department, 116 S. State St., Greenfield.