2013-09-26 / Around Town

Group Wants Radio Tracking

By Tom Shevlin

A Newport neighborhood group is asking the city to examine the feasibility of joining the island's two other communities in utilizing radio tracking technology to speed the rescue of "wandering" residents.

At their Aug. 5 board meeting, members of The Point Association voted to approve a resolution that urges City Councilors to consider arming first responders with a radio-based tracking system that could be used to help find at-risk seniors with Alzheimer's or dementia who wander from their homes.

Beth Cullen, president of The Point Association, wrote in a Sept. 9 letter to Mayor Henry F. Winthrop and members of the council that Newport has experienced two wandering fatalities since 2005."

According to Cullen, radio tracking technology is "well proven and funding is reportedly available" to implement tracking programs for indigent residents.

Typically, those programs involve the deployment of radioequipped bracelets through local health care organizations or municipalities to potential at-risk populations. When an individual is reported missing, first responders, such as police and fire personnel, are able to track the signal emanating from the bracelet in an effort to locate the individual.

According to statistics from the Rhode Island Department of Health, there are currently an estimated 24,000 state residents with Alzheimer's disease, and many more with untreated symptoms. Of that total, 60 percent are estimated to wander at some point during the course of the disease, with a 46 percent mortality rate for those not found within 24 hours.

In February of 2012, the body of Brenda Batts, a 68-year-old Newport resident with a history of dementia, was discovered near the Van Zandt Avenue bridge, following an unsuccessful police search and Silver Alert.

At the time, residents of The Point expressed concern over the city's response to the incident and the community's inability to locate Batts before she succumbed to freezing temperatures.

They maintain that radio-based tracking technologies can "pinpoint wanderers in buildings, under brush, and in adverse weather conditions that may block GPS signals."

First responders in Middletown and Portsmouth have already been trained in these tracking systems and the Point Association is asking that the city engage in a feasibility study to explore whether such an approach can be implemented in Newport as well. City staff are expected to report back on their findings in the coming months.

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