County’s Life Tracker program hits 10-year mark

Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt, left, and Life Tracker volunteers Barb Wiegand, center, and Yvonne Clark, demonstrate how to employ the device. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

By RYAN JARVI

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Since the Life Tracker program was implemented in Marquette County a decade ago, four people who otherwise may have never been seen again were found and safely returned to their caregivers.

Yvonne Clark, who helps coordinate the program, said Life Tracker is available to anyone in Marquette County who has a tendency to wander.

“That could be Alzheimer’s, it could be autistic, it could be a traumatic brain injury — anybody that has a tendency to wander and not be able to find their way home on their own,” she said.

At all times, participants in the Life Tracker program wear a bracelet that resembles a large watch and emits a unique radio frequency, allowing law enforcement to trace its latest location.

“It gives the caregivers a great deal of peace of mind because they know if their loved one wanders, at least they have a way to look for them,” Clark said.

The tracking devices are powered by batteries, and program organizers said volunteers are needed to help change those.

“Every two months a volunteer would have to go out and change the battery on it, so it’s not that much time,” said Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt, who, along with a few other members of his staff, received training on the program and devices Wednesday.

Zyburt said there are now 12 volunteers who have gone through the training, and currently 14 people wear the devices, though in the past there have been as many as 22, and as few as three or four.

If an individual participating in the program is missing, that person’s caregiver calls 911, Zyburt explained. The dispatcher then contacts the sheriff’s special operations unit, which has the equipment and ability to locate the participant’s Life Tracker device.

Zyburt said when he first learned the bracelets emitted radio frequencies, he wondered why the older technology was used instead of something more advanced.

But if they used GPS technology, he said, “because of our dense area, and there’s so many dead spots and that, especially in the woods, we probably wouldn’t be able to find them; whereas this, each person has a bracelet with a transmitter and each transmitter has a specific number.”

The volunteer training lasts about two hours, organizers said, and covers how the device works, what type of paperwork must be completed and other relevant information.

“It’s not a hard job,” Clark said. “It doesn’t require that much, just putting it on and taking some pertinent information so that search and rescue knows who they’re looking for, and then once every two months they go and change the battery.”

Program participants are asked for a one-time $50 suggested donation and a $20 monthly fee to cover the cost of the bracelet and batteries. However, organizers said if participants can’t afford it, those expenses will be covered for them.

“If there’s a hardship, then there’s no problem,” Clark said. “Nobody gets turned down.”

The need for the Life Tracker initiative was realized in 2004 when a woman was reported lost near Witch Lake, according to a history of the program compiled by Julie Shaw, director of Aging Services and the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program of Marquette County.

The attempt to find the missing woman included 40 search and rescue personnel, 60 law enforcement officers, six K-9 units, 200 volunteers, the U.S. Coast Guard and helicopters, Shaw wrote.

The search lasted five days, but the woman wasn’t found. It was two months later that a group of bloodhounds and volunteers who search for missing people on their own time located the woman, only 5 miles from where she was last seen.

The Life Tracker program is provided through a partnership between the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Marquette County, Marquette County Sheriff’s Office, TRIAD of Marquette County, Alzheimer’s Association and Hiawatha Amateur Radio Association.

For more information on becoming a participant or volunteer in the Life Tracker program, call the RSVP of Marquette County at 906-315-2607.