Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corporals Train Other Departments in Critical Project Lifesaver Skills

Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corporals Erica Valvano and Laura Siemonsma-Bertelli teamed up to train and certify Morris, Essex and Sussex County Sheriff’s Officers and Livingston Police Officers as electronic search specialists in their respective Project Lifesaver Programs.

Morris County Sheriff's Office Corporal Laura Siemonsma (standing) confers with Sheriff's Office Corporal Erica Valvano during a class they taught to other law enforcement agencies on Project Lifesaver.
Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Laura Siemonsma (standing) confers with Sheriff’s Office Corporal Erica Valvano during a class they taught to other law enforcement agencies on Project Lifesaver.
Morris County Sheriff's Officer Travis Somerville, right, practices with a hand-held receiver as part of his re-certification as an electronic search specialist with the Project Lifesaver Program.
Morris County Sheriff’s Officer Travis Somerville, right, practices with a hand-held receiver as part of his re-certification as an electronic search specialist with the Project Lifesaver Program.

The Morris County Sheriff’s Office oversees one of the largest Project Lifesaver programs in New Jersey, with 135 clients with Alzheimer’s, Autism, Down Syndrome or traumatic brain injury protected through a battery-powered bracelet or anklet if they wander away.

“This simple program is one of the most valuable assets in the Sheriff’s Office for protecting our vulnerable residents and easing anxieties and concerns that caregivers naturally have,” said Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, who greeted the participants before the session.

Corporals Valvano and Siemonsma-Bertelli on Tuesday, September 10, conducted a day-long training session that certified some Officers for the first time and re-certified others. The program is designed to give caregivers peace of mind and ensure immediate tracking of clients who wander off.

Corporals Siemonsma-Bertelli and Valvano told the class that Sheriff’s Officers also develop a rapport with caregivers and clients through visits to change bracelet and anklet batteries, with assistance from some local police departments. The program provides a terrific community policing opportunity.

The client list also enables the Morris County Sheriff’s Office to alert caregivers about anticipated snowstorms or excessive heat.  Ice for keeping medications cold has been brought to clients during power outages and Corporal Valvano made sure one client had enough wood for the woodstove during a cold snap.

The Morris County Sheriff’s Office training included videos and a power-point presentation on the cognitive conditions of clients in Project Lifesaver programs and cases of how Project Lifesaver might have saved lives of people who wandered off.  Project Lifesaver, now an international program, was started in 1999 by the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon chats with Livingston Police Officers before the start of a training session on Project Lifesaver taught by Morris County Sheriff's Officers on September 10, 2019.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon chats with Livingston Police Officers before the start of a training session on Project Lifesaver taught by Morris County Sheriff’s Officers on September 10, 2019.

The training also included hands-on instruction on how to operate a hand-held receiver that tracks the signal emitted from a transmitter inside the bracelet or anklet worn by the client. The transmitters have radio frequencies specific to each client.  In Morris County, it typically takes about 20 minutes to locate a missing Project Lifesaver client after notification is received that he or she has wandered off.

Project Lifesaver International has rescued 3,594 individuals since its inception.

Project Lifesaver enrollment is free in Morris County as the program is funded through a Division on Aging grant and donations.  Sheriff’s Officers in the Office’s Community Outreach and Planning Section are all trained in the program, along with all Sheriff’s Office K-9 Section handlers.

The Morris County Sheriff’s Office started its own Project Lifesaver program – which works even when clients are vacationing away from home – in 2003 for adults and in 2005 for juveniles.

For more information on the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Project Lifesaver program click on:   https://sheriff.morriscountynj.gov/community/project_lifesaver/