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Lifesaver keeps track of Munhall's 'missing'

Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Project Lifesaver trainer Cathy Ash and Munhall officer James Williams demonstrate the use of specialized electronic search-and-rescue equipment.

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By Tim Karan
Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 4:41 a.m.

It just became a little more difficult to disappear in Munhall — as long as you've got the right hookup.

The Munhall Police Department recently took delivery of a starter kit as part of a grant from Project Lifesaver International, a nonprofit organization offering equipment that helps public safety agencies locate missing persons who are outfitted with a special transmitter.

Officer James Williams, who applied for the grant on behalf of the borough, said he and several other members of the police department received training with the equipment last week and are certified to begin using the new technology.

“There's a lot of good that can come from this,” Williams said. “It'll help us track down missing special needs children, elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer's and anyone else who might benefit from this type of monitoring.”

The transmitter, which is about the size of a wristwatch, is fitted onto a band that can be placed on a person's wrist or ankle. Once a caregiver notifies police that the person is missing, Munhall police officers use a handheld device that emits a chirping noise that becomes louder when pointed in the direction of the transmitter, much like a metal detector. Williams said the department has two of the devices.

After a few days with Project Lifesaver trainer Cathy Ash, Williams said the devices are as good as advertised.

“It does everything they said it would do,” Williams said. “We're hoping to get this off the ground right away.”

Ash said transmitters can be traced from as far as one to three miles away and up to seven feet underwater. The average search usually takes 30 minutes or less to find the person wearing the transmitter.

“I believe there have been over 2,600 searches with these devices so far,” Ash said. “And they've all resulted in finding the individual — all still alive.”

The transmitter bracelets cost about $300 each, but Williams said the police department is looking to help lessen or eliminate the cost to residents who need them.

“We're trying to see if insurance will pay for the bracelets,” he said. “If insurance pays 75 percent, the borough is trying to have funds available to pay for the other 25 percent. Nothing is for sure yet, but it's going to kind of be on an individual basis.”

The department is hosting its first annual Project Lifesaver golf outing at Westwood Golf Club on Oct. 5 to benefit the project.

“We've already heard from a few people interested in using the bracelets,” Williams said. “And we're asking anyone with a special needs child or relative with dementia to reach out to us.”

For more information, contact Munhall police at 412-464-7300.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1970, or

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