Project Lifesaver aids first responders’ searches

A year after Jake Wilson’s disappearance, Project Lifesaver is being kicked into gear with the help of the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s office and many other programs including the LOST (Loved Ones Safe Together) program.

“This project was born out of the anguish we all felt while searching for Jake Wilson. We knew that we could take advantage of some technology and work in partnership with families of autistic children to use this technology so that what happened to Jake would not happen to another child or family again,” Sheriff Tony Thompson of Black Hawk county said. “It is a conglomerate of several programs, but the LOST Program focuses on programs and technologies that makes our most vulnerable in society safer through opportunities and technology that aids first responders in getting to them quicker.”

The Black Hawk County Sheriff’s office has transponders that can track the lightweight bracelets that people who have a danger of wandering wear. This helps to quickly locate the clients in case of an emergency and gives the families an additional sense of security according to Thompson.

The Cedar Valley Autism Awareness group brought the project idea to the Sheriff’s office hoping to partner up with them on it. Ever since then the project has been funded by a grant through the Waterloo Community Foundation and with the Community Services Fund that is funded through donations.

“We have fostered great relationships over the past year with the local autism awareness and Alzheimer’s groups, and following the arduous efforts we expended in searching for and locating young Jake Wilson, we don’t want to go through that as an agency ever again and never want a family to have to experience such an event again,” Thompson said.

Even though the project is new to the community, it already has a good start and has many people getting involved.

“This project already has several groups and agencies involved and several individuals signing up, so the program already has ‘legs’ and is up, off and running. We continue to work with our system of advocates to further the message and get the word out. We use social media and the network of legitimate media contacts that we work with every day to continue to keep the message in the minds of the communities in Black Hawk County, and we have it on our website as well,” Thompson said.

Along with the quick start, the project is already popular with the families and friends of those who could benefit from it.

“Everyone who has been approached or has requested the technology is excited for the opportunity and appreciative of the support that they are getting from our agency. The LOST program goes beyond just the technology though. [The program] is also outreach and education. It is support systems and connections to families of other people with similar situations, so they gain an extended support system through participating in our program,” Thompson said.

Anyone who is in need of this technology can contact Deputy Joe Stafford, the Community Services Coordinator at the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office to get more assistance and to help get their questions answered.

“I invested so much personally in the search for Jake Wilson. I invested so much in the search for the missing cousins case, and I’ve had to watch those situations tear at the families in each case. As the incident commander for those kinds of situations, I take our searches, our investigations and our efforts very personally, and though my anguish pales in comparison to what the family goes through, I too feel the pain and suffering. I struggle through the long, long hours of searching, the difficulties of negotiating all the obstacles of such a difficult administration of this kind of incident,” Thompson said. “If we can save one family the frustration through this investment in time and technology, it will make all that suffering worthwhile.”

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