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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 22, 2010

Call goes out to help Kyle Austin
Wandering group home resident found before nightfall

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — Kyle Austin is safe at home again.

Austin, 44, lives in one of Altamont’s group homes. The home at 150 Western Avenue in the village is operated by the Center for Disability Services.

Austin is familiar to many village residents as he frequently walks in Altamont, accompanied by a staffer; he often carries stuffed dinosaurs.

On July 15, Austin, who has developmental disabilities, “left his residence and was unaccounted for during an extended period of time that day,” according to a statement from Anne Schneider Costigan, deputy executive director for the Center for Disability Services, which she issued in answer to Enterprise questions. “The center instituted its protocol and notified the Altamont Police Department.”

Altamont Police did not return calls this week seeking comment, but Carol Lawlor, chief of the Guilderland Police, said her department acted as a “go-between” when Altamont requested a call be sent to area telephones.

“You determine the area you want to send to,” she said, “and a call is sent out with a recorded message.”

Guilderland has used the procedure in the past, she said, giving an example of notifying residents several years ago in the area of a rape to secure their doors and windows.

The July 15 call was handled by Chief Deputy Matthew Campbell with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

Similar to Reverse 911, the system used by Albany County is called a Dialogic Geocast Web System, Campbell said.

“There are two sides to the system,” he said. The call-out side, he said, is used two or three times a week to reach emergency medical services, search and rescue, or firefighting crews.

The geocast side, used on July 15, is employed far less often, Campbell said. A geographical area is mapped out and a TN, for telephone number, list is used so that every Verizon phone number, listed or not, is called.

“We use it maybe once a month and even that might be a high estimate,” said Campbell. “It’s for an imminent risk of life and death or public safety.” This would include an Amber alert, for an abducted child, he said, or a warning about an impending flood.

The reason he okayed use of the system to help find Kyle Austin, said Campbell, is because Austin is a diabetic, had been missing for eight hours, and needed his medication.

“He had been missing since 10 a.m.,” said Campbell, “and the call went out at 6 p.m.”

The call was sent out to 50,000 homes in 90 minutes, said Campbell.

A recorded mesage gave Austin’s age, and said he stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed about 210 pounds. It also described what he was wearing — blue jeans and a T-shirt with a fire department logo. It asked people who had seen him to call the Guilderland Police dispatcher.

Campbell said the call was essentially free. “We pay a one-time annual maintenance fee that covers 200,000 calls,” he said. “It was July and we hadn’t used any. So basically, it was free. We still have 150,000 [calls] left.”

Campbell, who has worked for the sheriff’s department for 20 years, called the 911 technology, implemented eight or nine years ago, “phenomenal.”

“It gives us the ability to leverage technology,” he said of the system. “We can concentrate on the work at hand rather than having to spend our time doing the legwork, knocking on doors.”

“Fortunately, Austin was located before nightfall and he was safe,” said Costigan in her statement. “He was examined medically by the Center’s nursing staff and the town’s paramedics who determined he had no injuries or any other ill effects.”

She concluded, “We are very appreciative of the extraordinary efforts of so many people, including the residents of the village of Altamont, who offered assistance, concern, and support. We are thankful for the hard work from search and rescue teams, the Altamont Police Department, other law enforcement agencies, staff at the house, and from the 10 other residents of the house.”

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