Jared Johnson talks Operation Lifesaver

O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Jared Johnson holds up a Yagi antenna receiver while talking about a search-and-rescue program he is starting in the county called Operation Lifesaver. The antenna would be used to track radio frequencies to find missing people.

PRIMGHAR—The O’Brien County Board of Supervisors recently got an up-close look at new equipment the emergency management agency purchased for a burgeoning search-and-rescue program in the county.

During the board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 22, emergency management agency coordinator Jared Johnson told the supervisors about Operation Lifesaver, which uses radio frequency transmitters and receivers to locate missing people.

The program is designed to find people at risk of wandering off and getting lost, such as individuals with memory-loss disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants would have a transmitter with them at all times, which they would wear as a wristband. In the event they would go missing, their caregivers or other loved ones could notify the emergency management agency so it could begin a search-and-rescue mission.

The agency would use a receiver to find the missing person’s location by pinpointing the frequency given off by their transmitter.

There are two types of receivers that give off a chirping noise when detecting a frequency: An omnidirectional antenna and a Yagi antenna. The first can be mounted to a vehicle and is used to determine the transmitter’s general location. The Yagi antenna meanwhile is a hand-held directional antenna.

“Once we get to an area where we can start hearing the chirp, that would be the point where we would stop and then switch from this omnidirectional antenna to the Yagi antenna to try to narrow down specifically where that person is at,” Johnson said.

Johnson demonstrated how the equipment worked by first turning the omnidirectional antenna on and then walking around the room with the Yagi antenna. The supervisors listened to the chirping noise the devices gave off and guessed where Johnson had hidden a transmitter in the room before the meeting.

Supervisor Dan Friedrichsen asked what the range is for the receivers.

“In areas where it’s hilly, once you start hearing the chirp you’re usually within about half a mile of the person,” Johnson said. “The instructor that came up from Virginia, he believes due to our terrain being flatter we’ll actually have a better range.”

Johnson’s training for Operation Lifesaver involved finding multiple transmitters the instructor hid that were all set to different frequencies. Another exercise involved finding the instructor himself, who hid in places around different towns.

Caregivers who want to sign someone up for the program would be given a transmitter, a year’s supply of batteries and instructional information for how to remove and replace batteries. The transmitters are waterproof, meaning they are safe to wear while bathing.

“There are some things the caregivers would need to do. There are daily checks to make sure the person has it on them, that it’s transmitting and then reaching out for us if they’re having any issues with the equipment,” Johnson said.

The emergency management agency will maintain a database of people participating in the program. It will record the different frequencies for their transmitters and have photos of the individuals too.

The kits with all the materials cost a little more than $300, although Johnson noted some other counties with Operation Lifesaver raised funds for which people then could apply to participate. He said that could be an option the county could look at in the future.

Johnson plans to roll out Operation Lifesaver in January. He also intends to train more people in the county to use the equipment in case he is unable to respond to an alert about a missing person.

Besides talking about the search-and-rescue program, Johnson updated the supervisors on his agency’s work receiving and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to nursing homes in the county.

The week of Dec. 13-19, Johnson picked up a shipment of supplies that included about 6,000 disposable masks, 4,900 disposable gowns and 16,000 gloves.

He also told the board the county’s request for state reimbursement through the Local Government Relief Fund was approved in the amount of $174,360.63. The reimbursement is for eligible expenditures the county made March 1-July 31 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The amount is an amended figure from what the county initially applied for during that period as it reflects a change that allowed 50 percent of public safety and public health wages to be reimbursed instead of 25 percent.