HCSO search and rescue crews using lifesaving GPS technology to recover missing people

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - Hillsborough Search and Rescue teams are troubleshooting the best ways to use technology that they say can save the lives of the county's most vulnerable people who go missing.

Hillsborough Search and Rescue crews get hundreds of calls a year for people with cognitive disorders like dementia, or people with special needs, who wander away from their caregivers.

Now, deputies are pushing Safety Net bracelets that emit a strong GPS signal, helping to better track them down.

How Safety Net Bracelets work

From a thousand feet in the sky, Deputy Amanda Moraniez hovers out of the side of a Hillsborough Search and Rescue Chopper, tracking the GPS signal of a "missing person."

They are just running a training exercise but they say the real thing happens far too often.

In 2015, the Safety Net Search and Rescue team with HCSO got called out 16 times to recover a missing person wearing the bracelet. They say because it is worn 24 hours a day, it can speed up finding the location of a missing person substantially if they wander.

The sheriff's office says the safety net bracelet means the difference between minutes and hours of searching.

"It absolutely saves lives," said Sgt. Eric  Powell with the Safety Net Search and Rescue Team. "Time is everything when someone goes missing."

Crews track the safety net signal not only from the air but also on the ground.

And they say the rate of success is proven. A few days ago in Plant City, a person wandered off wearing the safety net bracelet. Deputies say they found them in 25 minutes.

Now, they are urging people who care for loved ones with cognitive disorders to get this device.

"Comfort-wise, knowing that they have this is an extra security that if their loved one does go missing, that we have the great opportunity of  finding the person quickly," Powell said.

"It feels really good," Moraniez said. "It's a real sense of accomplishment when we can find somebody quickly."

Deputies said people who are good candidates for a safety net bracelet are those who have cognitive disorders and could be in danger of wandering.

HCSO said they cost about $175 to purchase the initial bracelet and about $30 per month after that for the monitoring and GPS service.

Each bracelet comes with a battery tester that caregivers can test each day to ensure the bracelet is working. Batteries need to be changed on average about every six months.

How to enroll in the Safety Net Program

So far, about 80 people are using the Safety Net bracelets in Hillsborough County.

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