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Tracking down loved ones

Tracey van der Raaij, Tam Williams, Murray Johnston, Neil Richardson, and Sam Milligan show off the WanderSearch Tracking System. PHOTOS/EMILY IRELAND

Tracking gives peace of mind

Emily Ireland

A small teal pendant is giving families around Wairarapa peace of mind.

The pendant is part of the WanderSearch Tracking System and is used by Wairarapa Search and Rescue volunteers to find missing people living with cognitive conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s.

WanderSearch became established with Wairarapa Search and Rescue in 2012.

Seven years on, the trust has 28 pendants – 18 of which are in the field in Wairarapa.

Six of them are keeping track of people with Alzheimer’s, 10 are keeping track of children with autism, and two are keeping track of “wanderers”.

Wairarapa Search and Rescue volunteer Sam Milligan said the system worked by using the tracking unit to find the signal of the pendant being searched for.

It emits a beeping noise and the signal gets stronger the closer the tracking unit is to the pendant.

The range of the pulse can be detected up to 5km from a high point using line of sight, and without the receiver unit and knowing the unique frequency for a particular device, no one can track the device or client.

“We will get a call from police and they will tell us where the person was last seen.

“We have a small antenna we put on the roof of our vehicle and we drive around until we pick up the signal.

“Then we put on a directional aerial, which gives us the direction and we hone in on that.”

WanderSearch pendants can be worn on the wrist, around the neck, or as a keyring.

Milligan said the service was able to be provided thanks to “generous donations” from service groups around the region.

He said the tracking kit was about $3000, and pendants are “$290 a pop”.

“It’s old technology, but it’s reliable and it has a six- or seven-month battery life.”

He said GPS capability trackers needed charging every few days, which was not suitable for people living with Alzheimer’s or autism.

Autism Wairarapa support co-ordinator Tracey van der Raaij said every new family that contacted Autism Wairarapa was told about the WanderSearch Tracking System, especially if their child tends to wander.

“This has given peace of mind to a lot of families,” she said.

“I just think it’s amazing.

“I have three nephews on the spectrum, and I remember all three of them took off at one stage in their life, and how scary that was.

“This has been fantastic for our families.

“It gives them the confidence that there is someone else looking out for them.

She said one young boy with autism called the pendant his “dinosaur egg”.

“It’s great that it has been incorporated into play.”

Alzheimer’s Wairarapa community support officer Tam Williams said the system had also given peace of mind to families of people with Alzheimer’s – “particularly if they live rurally”.

“One farm leads to another and if they just keep walking, looking for a landmark – cause that’s what they’ll be doing – they could end up three farms over.”

She said often, people who were in the early stage of Alzheimer’s were still very fit and mobile.

“The pendant gives peace of mind when your loved one still has a degree of independence and you want to retain that.”

Wairarapa Search and Rescue chairman Murray Johnston said the tracking system “takes most of the search out of search and rescue”.

“We have to bear in mind that any missing person is still a police responsibility, so it’s still a police-controlled search.

“Often the response from police will be that they drive around nearby streets for the first half hour.

“We have an understanding with them that they give us a ring after that.”

Wairarapa Search and Rescue chief tracker Neil Richardson said when looking for missing people with cognitive conditions, sometimes “you’ve got to just forget a lot of what you’ve been told about where the missing person may be”.

Although information was always useful to have, he said the tracker never lied and that it was never a good idea to discount any possibilities of where the missing person may be.

The WanderSearch pendant can be worn as a necklace, watch or can be used as a keyring.

It can also be sewn into clothes.

If you are looking after a person who is living with a cognitive condition who is at risk of wandering from their place of residence, contact Sam Milligan on [email protected], or call 06 370 9322.

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