Deputy Bob Carder pivoted his body as he grasped a receiver, listening intently as the device beeped. He waved the handheld antenna back over the spot where the sound was loudest, meaning the signal was strongest.
After a few minutes, he used the device to find the small bracelet perched on the ledge of a pillar outside of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office west precinct office.
Carder took part in training last week to learn how to operate upgraded equipment used to find missing people.
The receivers and bracelets are products of SafetyNet, a subscription-based company that works with police agencies to help find people when they go missing. Targeted to vulnerable adults and children, SafetyNet uses radio frequency tracking linked to a bracelet with a transmitter. If the person wearing the bracelet wanders or gets lost, law enforcement agencies can use the receivers to find the person more quickly.
The company supplies the Clark County Sheriff’s Office with the equipment and provides training. It allows 911 dispatchers access to information on its customers so photos and details such as fears or disabilities can be relayed to officers.
“We are all for people using any sort of emerging technology that will give them a sense of relief that their loved one, or the person they’re caring for, would be able to be tracked should they turn up missing,” said Sgt. Fred Neiman, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
Though there are only eight SafetyNet customers in the county, Neiman said the program is a good one in terms of keeping vulnerable people, such as those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, safe.
Christine Hughey is one of the SafetyNet customers in the area. She subscribes on behalf of her 30-year-old son Russell Hargadine, who lives in Vancouver.
Hargadine is deaf, suffers from medical issues and is autistic, making it difficult for him to communicate with others. He lives in an adult care facility, but Hughey still worries about him. So for the past five years, Hughey has subscribed to SafetyNet.
“Sometimes he gets really wound up, and if he gets the opportunity, he’s out the door,” she said. “He can run like the wind.”
In the most recent incident, about six months ago, Hargadine got upset about a roommate’s death and ran from the facility.
“He was gone for two hours, and it was dark, foggy, and cold,” she said. “Two hours may not seem like a long time, but two hours is like an eternity when you know how fragile and vulnerable they are.”
Her biggest fear was that Hargadine would get hit by a car or encounter law enforcement who didn’t know about his disability.
“Because he’s deaf, he doesn’t hear traffic, doesn’t hear people yelling to warn him,” she said. “It’s frightening.”
Hargadine was wearing the SafetyNet bracelet, but before law enforcement got set up to find him, an employee of the care facility caught up to Hargadine 2 1/2 miles away.
“I think this was a wake-up call for all of us,” Hughey said. “We saw how far away he can get and how fast he can be.”
Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Joe Graaff attended last week’s training to explore whether the city agency will also enter into an agreement to use the equipment.
“So far, we like what we see,” Graaff said.
Hughey said she’s excited by the idea of more agencies using radar frequency technology to help find missing people.
“Russell is far from the only person who wanders,” she said. “It causes everyone who loves him a lot of concern.”