Take steps now to save a life later

We had a computerized image in our paper last week of two stick figures. One was recognizable as a police officer because of the hat he was wearing.

He had his arm on the shoulder of the other stick figure.

This wasn’t a depiction of the long arm of the law. It wasn’t meant to convey the feeling many of us get when we’re pulled over on the road by a patrolling cop — you know, that sort of sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach and the desperate thought: What did I do wrong?

No, this was more along the lines of the famous Los Angeles Police motto: “To protect and to serve.”

Next to the stick figures was the silhouette of a house. The graphic illustrates a program called “Take Me Home.”

Our Guilderland reporter, Anne Hayden Harwood, detailed the way the system came to town. The program was started in 2003 in Pensacola, Fla. by an officer with an autistic son — many kids with autism are both unaware of danger and likely to wander. It gained traction in 2010 after a 5-year-old Kansas boy with autism wandered away from his home and drowned in a nearby pond.

A Guilderland resident, Kim Matthews, who herself has a young son on the autism spectrum, read about the system in the Autism Spectrum Quarterly. The article has a picture of the Kansas boy, Mason Medlam, with a sweet gap-toothed smile and sparkling bright eyes.

“We were very hyper-vigilant,” his mother, Sheila Medlam, is quoted as saying. “We had three locks on every door. We took every precaution. I never slept more than a foot from him for five years, his whole life.”

On the day Mason drowned, though, it was over 100 degrees, the air-conditioning had broken, and there were fans in several windows. Mason managed to climb out a window.

Mrs. Medlam knew her son was attracted to water, and the first place she looked was the pond near their house. But she was too late. She had called 911, and is convinced that a registry would have saved his life by identifying his attraction to water.

Matthews, with the encouragement of Officer Joseph Mazzone, approached the police chief and got the OK to proceed with the program in Guilderland. Mazzone got in touch with Officer Jimmy Donahue, in Pensacola, who created the program; he answered the call despite being in the midst of a hurricane.

The software for the program is free of charge for any police department that requests it, and it is also free for caretakers to enroll someone.

Take Me Home is helpful not just for wandering children but also for the elderly with dementia.

We urge anyone who cares for such a person, young or old, to download the application from the Guilderland Police Department’s website. It is easy to fill out, requesting such basic information as name, physical description, and type of disability as well as sensory issues, favorite attractions or locations, atypical behavior, favorite objects, and preferred method of communication.

After our Take Me Home story ran, we got a call from a deputy with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, telling us he had read the story and that the sheriff’s office offers a similar program. Sheriff Craig Apple was eager to give us the details this week on Project Lifesaver, an international program that began in Albany County six months ago.

“It’s an awesome program,” Apple said. “We ask people to come in and fill out a form.”

Those on the autism spectrum or suffering from dementia are then give a bracelet that emits a distinct radio frequency. “It looks like a watch,” said Apple. “The RF is in our database, and we check every few months on the condition and to replace the battery.”

If the person wearing the bracelet wanders away, 911 is called and then a large antenna is used to find the area where the person has wandered.  “Then we send a team in with a small antenna,” said Apple. “We don’t have to use dogs or a helicopter; it’s fast.”

So far, 13 people in Albany County are wearing the bracelet, and the system has been successfully activated “a couple of times,” said Apple.

There is no cost to the wearer; the system is paid for with forfeiture money, said Apple, which comes from money seized from drug dealers.

“I’m not saying we’re the best,” Apple concluded, applauding the Guilderland program, which he had been unaware of. “The more the merrier.”

We believe coordination among similar programs in the county would be useful both for the police agencies involved and for the citizens benefitting from those programs.

We’ve recently run news on our pages, too, of other police programs that can help residents.

With this winter’s bone-chilling cold weather, the sheriff’s office announced a countywide Special Needs Registry designed to help those who are physically unable to or need help to evacuate their homes during an emergency.

All information is put into the emergency 911 database for retrieval during disasters and can be used for routine distress calls, giving first responders vital information when they need it.

Sheriff Apple released this example of how the registry is used: “We have been experiencing a polar vortex the past few days, extreme cold; because of this, I had my Emergency Management Unit call the people in the registry living in the Hilltowns to make sure they were OK because of the nature of their environment.”

The registry is voluntary and confidential. We urge those with special needs to fill out the online form at www.albanycountysheriff.com, to call 720-8030, or to visit the sheriff’s office at 58 Verda Ave. in Clarksville.

The sheriff’s office also offers a free Yellow Dot Program, designed to help first responders provide life-saving medical attention during that first “golden hour” after a crash or other emergency. It can make the difference between life and death.

A Yellow Dot in the driver’s side rear window of a car or truck lets first responders know that vital medical information is stored in the glove compartment.

A Yellow Dot kit can also alert those who respond to a health emergency in a home where the resident placed a Yellow Dot decal on or beside the home’s front door and placed a completed card for each occupant in a clear plastic freezer bag in a visible location in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator.

What could be simpler?

Imagine this scene: An emergency medical crew arrives at a home or accident scene to find someone unconscious.

Is she on medication? What is her medical history? Who is her doctor?

If there is a Yellow Dot, displayed where it should be, the answers to those vital questions are close at hand.

So call now: 487-5887.

And, yes, we’re going to repeat the online address: www.albanycountysheriff.com. Repetitio est mater studiorum.

All of these police services are free. But none of them will work unless the people who need them sign on.

Take a few minutes now to save a life — maybe your own, or someone you love.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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