High hopes from LoJack

Five years ago, Mike and Sue Tuckerman’s then-8-year-old son, Mike, wandered away from their Somerton home.

The youngster has autism, and his family called 911 before conducting a frantic search for him. Employees of the nearby Comcast building assisted in the search, and he was found 45 minutes later 300 yards into the woods near Northeast Avenue.

“It was a very frightening experience,” the boy’s father said.

After the scare, the Tuckermans did some online research and learned of technological aids to help find individuals who are at risk of the potentially life-threatening behavior of wandering.

The family contacted a neighbor, City Councilman Jack Kelly (R-at large), who successfully pushed for legislation to bring LoJack SafetyNet to Philadelphia.

People who have cognitive disorders, such as autism, dementia, Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, wear a waterproof, lightweight SafetyNet bracelet at all times. The bracelet, which can be worn on the wrist or ankle, includes a radio frequency transmitter that emits a continuous signal.

A database includes information on the person’s physical characteristics and personal habits, and how he or she should be approached, addressed and comforted.

When a loved one goes missing, the family should contact authorities. Trained and certified search and rescue teams use SafetyNet receivers to track the radio frequency signal being emitted from the bracelet. The receivers can detect the signal typically within a range of one mile for on-the-ground searches and five to seven miles in searches by helicopter.

Radio frequency technology can work in densely wooded areas, steel-constructed buildings, concrete structures such as garages and shallow water. SafetyNet builds on LoJack’s better-known vehicle tracking and recovery program.

“You certainly have your eyes on them all the time, but it’s really peace of mind,” Sue Tuckerman said.

The Tuckermans last week joined Kelly, LoJack and police officials and Mayor Michael Nutter at a City Hall news conference to announce a public safety partnership.

LoJack has agreed to provide 1,500 bracelets to caregivers, along with batteries, straps, instruction, information, free shipping and six months of service at no charge.

The typical monthly charge is $30. Payment plans are available.

“It provides an added layer of protection,” said Kathy Kelleher, vice president of LoJack SafetyNet.

In September 2010, an 8-year-old boy with autism wandered into the ocean in Massachusetts, but was rescued in 14 minutes, thanks to his SafetyNet tracking bracelet.

In Philadelphia, there have been two rescues this year.

On March 23, a 72-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s was found sitting in an unlocked vehicle eight blocks from her Overbrook home. She’d been missing for two and a half hours and was wearing only nightwear despite the cold weather.

On Sept. 18, a 77-year-old man with Alzheimer’s was last seen near 52nd and Arch streets in West Philadelphia. His family reported him missing a day later. Police were unable to find him in a ground search, but pilots Chris Clemens and Scott Pastman, of the police aviation unit, spotted him after a 45-minute helicopter search near 16th and Mifflin streets in South Philadelphia and alerted a 1st Police District patrol car.

“We were able to whittle it down to a specific two- to three-block area,” said Clemens, who joined Capt. Kenneth O’Brien, commander of the aviation unit, in accepting an award from LoJack SafetyNet.

Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross explained that 359 officers have been trained with the equipment.

“It’s been a wonderful success for us, and we’re happy to have it,” he said.

Kelly and Nutter credited LoJack SafetyNet for making the contribution as part of the company’s 25-year anniversary.

“I appreciate LoJack’s generosity,” the councilman said.

“More people will have the ability to take advantage of this technology,” the mayor said. “Lives have already been saved with the help of this technology.”

The Tuckermans have founded an organization called Keeping Individuals Safe and Sound, which funds bracelets for 40 families.

Jenn Bonawitz’s 6–1/2-year-old daughter, Vanessa, an Anne Frank Elementary School kindergarten student who has Down syndrome, has worn an anklet for two years.

“It’s total peace of mind for that ‘what if,’ ” said Bonawitz, of Bustleton.

Young Mike Tuckerman and his twin, Eddie, who also has autism, are 13. Their mom and dad worry about the swimming pools, reservoirs and train tracks in the area and caution against parental complacency.

“It’s not a babysitting service,” Mike Tuckerman said. “They don’t know the dangers around them.”

Tuckerman hopes more families learn about LoJack SafetyNet.

“We’re thrilled this program is here,” he said. ••

To enroll or for more information, call toll-free at 1–877–4-FIND-THEM or visit www.safetynetbylojack.com or the LoJack SafetyNet page on Facebook.

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com