RUMOR: The Only Way to Find Missing Persons Is to Organize Search Parties

FACT: The City has a program called Project Lifesaver, a national resource designed for individuals with cognitive disabilities to be easily located by first responders in an emergency situation.
senior wearing project lifesaver bracelet​​One thing to keep in mind is that the program isn’t for everyone. It’s designed to allow first responders to quickly locate individuals with cognitive disabilities who would be lost and endangered without their caregivers and return them safely to their homes. For example, someone with Alzheimer’s, autism, Down syndrome or a traumatic brain injury are just some of the individuals enrolled in the program.

Ask any first responder and they will tell you that successful outcomes in a missing person’s case comes down to time. It’s an unfortunate reality, but the longer someone with a developmental disability is missing, the more likely it is harm will come to them. Project Lifesaver is designed to ensure that finding someone takes less time, which greatly increases chances for a happy outcome.

When someone is enrolled in Project Lifesaver, they’re given a transmitter that’s worn around their wrist or ankle. Not much larger than a watch, it emits a continuous signal as long as it has power, which is provided by a small battery. If an enrolled individual goes missing, all it takes is a call to 911. Police will be immediately dispatched to start looking.

To date, the Virginia Beach Police Department has a 100 percent success rate locating individuals from Project Lifesaver calls. The average time to find them – just 30 minutes. Without Project Lifesaver, it can take up to eight hours, or more, to find someone. When minutes matter, that’s an eternity.

Enrollment in the program costs little, just $5 per month. This small fee covers the cost of a year’s supply of batteries, that a City of Virginia Beach volunteer will come out and replace each month. Financial assistance is available for those who qualify, if cost is an issue.

There are some limitations to the technology to keep in mind. The equipment doesn’t use GPS technology, but rather a directional antenna. This means when VBPD is looking for someone, all they will know is the direction the signal is coming from, which will get stronger the closer they get. The range is also about one mile, so the sooner a missing person is reported, the better – the longer head start they have, the farther they can venture from their home.

GPS technology is available in similar programs, however they are significantly more expensive. They also require more frequent battery changes, or even removing the tracker to recharge, both of which leave gaps in coverage. This could be problematic if someone ventures away during one of those periods.

Lastly, all Hampton Roads cities participate in Project Lifesaver. This means if an enrolled person is reported missing near the border of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, first responders in both cities will be able to search for the same person.

For more information about Project Lifesaver, including enrollment information, please visit​.

Contact Information

VB411 - Project Lifesaver