High hopes from LoJack

Your loved one dis­ap­pears from home. No need to pan­ic if he’s wear­ing a Lo­Jack brace­let.

Five years ago, Mike and Sue Tuck­er­man’s then-8-year-old son, Mike, wandered away from their Somer­ton home.

The young­ster has aut­ism, and his fam­ily called 911 be­fore con­duct­ing a frantic search for him. Em­ploy­ees of the nearby Com­cast build­ing as­sisted in the search, and he was found 45 minutes later 300 yards in­to the woods near North­east Av­en­ue.

“It was a very fright­en­ing ex­per­i­ence,” the boy’s fath­er said.

After the scare, the Tuck­er­mans did some on­line re­search and learned of tech­no­lo­gic­al aids to help find in­di­vidu­als who are at risk of the po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing be­ha­vi­or of wan­der­ing.

The fam­ily con­tac­ted a neigh­bor, City Coun­cil­man Jack Kelly (R-at large), who suc­cess­fully pushed for le­gis­la­tion to bring Lo­Jack SafetyNet to Phil­adelphia.

People who have cog­nit­ive dis­orders, such as aut­ism, de­men­tia, Down syn­drome and Alzheimer’s dis­ease, wear a wa­ter­proof, light­weight SafetyNet brace­let at all times. The brace­let, which can be worn on the wrist or ankle, in­cludes a ra­dio fre­quency trans­mit­ter that emits a con­tinu­ous sig­nal.

A data­base in­cludes in­form­a­tion on the per­son’s phys­ic­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics and per­son­al habits, and how he or she should be ap­proached, ad­dressed and com­for­ted.

When a loved one goes miss­ing, the fam­ily should con­tact au­thor­it­ies. Trained and cer­ti­fied search and res­cue teams use SafetyNet re­ceiv­ers to track the ra­dio fre­quency sig­nal be­ing emit­ted from the brace­let. The re­ceiv­ers can de­tect the sig­nal typ­ic­ally with­in a range of one mile for on-the-ground searches and five to sev­en miles in searches by heli­copter.

Ra­dio fre­quency tech­no­logy can work in densely wooded areas, steel-con­struc­ted build­ings, con­crete struc­tures such as gar­ages and shal­low wa­ter. SafetyNet builds on Lo­Jack’s bet­ter-known vehicle track­ing and re­cov­ery pro­gram.

“You cer­tainly have your eyes on them all the time, but it’s really peace of mind,” Sue Tuck­er­man said.

The Tuck­er­mans last week joined Kelly, Lo­Jack and po­lice of­fi­cials and May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter at a City Hall news con­fer­ence to an­nounce a pub­lic safety part­ner­ship.

Lo­Jack has agreed to provide 1,500 brace­lets to care­givers, along with bat­ter­ies, straps, in­struc­tion, in­form­a­tion, free ship­ping and six months of ser­vice at no charge.

The typ­ic­al monthly charge is $30. Pay­ment plans are avail­able.

“It provides an ad­ded lay­er of pro­tec­tion,” said Kathy Kelle­her, vice pres­id­ent of Lo­Jack SafetyNet.

In Septem­ber 2010, an 8-year-old boy with aut­ism wandered in­to the ocean in Mas­sachu­setts, but was res­cued in 14 minutes, thanks to his SafetyNet track­ing brace­let.

In Phil­adelphia, there have been two res­cues this year.

On March 23, a 72-year-old wo­man with Alzheimer’s was found sit­ting in an un­locked vehicle eight blocks from her Over­brook home. She’d been miss­ing for two and a half hours and was wear­ing only night­wear des­pite the cold weath­er.

On Sept. 18, a 77-year-old man with Alzheimer’s was last seen near 52nd and Arch streets in West Phil­adelphia. His fam­ily re­por­ted him miss­ing a day later. Po­lice were un­able to find him in a ground search, but pi­lots Chris Clem­ens and Scott Past­man, of the po­lice avi­ation unit, spot­ted him after a 45-minute heli­copter search near 16th and Miff­lin streets in South Phil­adelphia and aler­ted a 1st Po­lice Dis­trict patrol car.

“We were able to whittle it down to a spe­cif­ic two- to three-block area,” said Clem­ens, who joined Capt. Ken­neth O’Bri­en, com­mand­er of the avi­ation unit, in ac­cept­ing an award from Lo­Jack SafetyNet.

Deputy Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Richard Ross ex­plained that 359 of­ficers have been trained with the equip­ment.

“It’s been a won­der­ful suc­cess for us, and we’re happy to have it,” he said.

Kelly and Nut­ter cred­ited Lo­Jack SafetyNet for mak­ing the con­tri­bu­tion as part of the com­pany’s 25-year an­niversary.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate Lo­Jack’s gen­er­os­ity,” the coun­cil­man said.

“More people will have the abil­ity to take ad­vant­age of this tech­no­logy,” the may­or said. “Lives have already been saved with the help of this tech­no­logy.”

The Tuck­er­mans have foun­ded an or­gan­iz­a­tion called Keep­ing In­di­vidu­als Safe and Sound, which funds brace­lets for 40 fam­il­ies.

Jenn Bon­aw­itz’s 6-1/2-year-old daugh­ter, Vanessa, an Anne Frank Ele­ment­ary School kinder­garten stu­dent who has Down syn­drome, has worn an ank­let for two years.

“It’s total peace of mind for that ‘what if,’ ” said Bon­aw­itz, of Bustleton.

Young Mike Tuck­er­man and his twin, Ed­die, who also has aut­ism, are 13. Their mom and dad worry about the swim­ming pools, reser­voirs and train tracks in the area and cau­tion against par­ent­al com­pla­cency.

“It’s not a babysit­ting ser­vice,” Mike Tuck­er­man said. “They don’t know the dangers around them.”

Tuck­er­man hopes more fam­il­ies learn about Lo­Jack SafetyNet.

“We’re thrilled this pro­gram is here,” he said. ••

To en­roll or for more in­form­a­tion, call toll-free at 1-877-4-FIND-THEM or vis­it www.safetynet­bylo­jack.com or the Lo­Jack SafetyNet page on Face­book.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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