According to the National Crime Information Center missing persons database, 521,705 people were reported missing in the US in 2021. Of those, 29,393 were considered to be in the “disabled” category. This includes people of all ages who have a mental or physical disability which puts them at risk to themselves or others.

Our children and our elderly are among the most precious – and the most vulnerable – members of the community. Unfortunately, certain conditions can put some citizens at a higher risk of going missing. Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly and developmental disorders such as autism in younger people can cause them to wander.

For the past ten years we’ve been using radio frequency technology to help locate missing people. Now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) has a new tool to help bring your loved ones safely home even more quickly. Thanks to a new three-year federal grant, we’ve been able to expand our partnership with SafetyNet Tracking Systems to help reunite vulnerable missing people with their families and caregivers. This partnership with SafetyNet could dramatically reduce the recovery time for missing people. Simply put, this will save lives.

These new devices resemble a smart watch, and are primarily worn on the wrist. One of the features is the ability to set up a geofence. A caregiver determines what area they would consider a safe zone – a perimeter around the home, school, or other safe place. The device is enabled with GPS tracking that will alert an administrator if their loved one wanders away from the safe zone. This allows your loved one to be located quickly.

The SafetyNet Tracking System will be available to residents of Pinellas County who are in need. Soon, citizens will be able to apply via the PCSO website, There is no cost to the user or their caregivers.

Health and developmental conditions can complicate rescue. A dementia patient may not respond to a call if they forget their own name. Autistic children can have a diminished fear response, and might go places other people would avoid, such as busy highways, dense woods, or muddy swamps. Many autistic children seem drawn to water, and drowning is heartbreakingly frequent among missing autistic children. Autistic children will sometimes ignore rescuers, and could even hide to avoid them.

These risks aren’t confined to the old or young. Dementia has many causes, and can happen at any age. Autistic adults are also vulnerable. SafetyNet is for any citizen who is at risk of wandering because of dementia, autism, or other cognitive or mental disorders.

Is there a person in your life who is vulnerable to wandering into danger? Keep an eye on the PCSO website for information on how to apply for a SafetyNet tracker.

Posted by Laura Sullivan Thursday, April 7, 2022 9:15:00 AM

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