Project Lifesaver programs combine radio technology with coordinated police responses to assist in locating wandering or missing community members. Specifically, participants in this program wear a battery-operated wrist transmitter provided by Project Lifesaver International (PLI) that emits a tracking signal every second, 24 hours a day. When a caregiver notifies their local police service that a loved one who is enrolled in this program is missing, a team is dispatched to the area where the person was last transmitted from to search for and locate the Individual with a specialized mobile-location tracking system. The primary purpose of this program is to assist with providing timely responses to missing persons to “save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children with the propensity to wander due to a cognitive condition” (Project Lifesaver International, 2020).
Is the program based on research?
This program does not appear to be based on research. Project Lifesaver programs seemingly derive from public safety personnel in Virginia in 1999 who sought to find more efficient ways to locate cognitively impaired wanderers and missing persons (Mahoney & Mahoney, 2010).
Has the program been independently evaluated?
No published, peer-reviewed studies of Project Lifesaver programs could be located.
Was the program rigorously tested?
Project Lifesaver programs have not been rigorously tested. Researchers have criticized this program/PLI for this fact, and because PLI does not keep statistics on the individual number of persons served (for example, see Petonito et al., 2013). Interestingly, PLI claim 3,663 people have been rescued because of this program (Project Lifesaver International, 2020).
Has the program evaluation been replicated?
Was the program tested in Canada?
No Canadian evaluations of Project Lifesaver programs were located, despite these being implemented in numerous Canadian police services.
Current information on the effectiveness of Project Lifesaver programs appear to be anecdotal at best. While this may be the case, they are perceived to be innocuous due to the “greater good” they provide by safeguarding those who are at high risk of going missing or wandering. Despite these positive intentions, these programs may have unintended consequences, such as impeding on privacy rights, civil liberties, issues with consent, providing a false sense of security (i.e., technologies can ‘crash’, become unreliable, etc.), and other related costs. As such, there is a strong need to track and test these programs, as well as generate independent evaluations.
Assessor: Lorna Ferguson, University of Western Ontario
Lorna Ferguson is a Ph.D. student in the Sociology department at the University of Western Ontario, and is the Director of Operations for Can-SEBP. Lorna has a broad interest in policing research and developing evidence-based approaches to policing and crime prevention, including issues related to firearms and social media use. Lorna’s research focuses on missing persons, policing, and evidence-based policy and practice. Specifically, her recent work examines police responses to missing persons in Canada to fill in knowledge gaps on ‘what works,’ ‘what doesn’t work,’ and ‘what we still don’t know’ in terms of how to most effectively and efficiently search for and investigate missing person cases.
Reviewer: Lili Liu, University of Waterloo
Lili Liu, PhD, OT Reg (Ont.) is Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo. She is an AGE-WELL Network Investigator and her research program examines the adoption of strategies to prevent and address risks of going missing in older adults living with dementia.
Mahoney, E. L., & Mahoney, D. F. (2010). Acceptance of Wearable Technology by People with Alzheimer’s Disease: Issues and Accommodations. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias, 25(6), 527-531.
Petonito, G., Muschert, G. W., Carr, D. C., Kinney, J. M., Ribbons, E. J., & Brown, J. S. (2013). Programs to Location Missing and Critically Wandering Elders: A Critical Review and a Call for Multiphasic Evaluation. Gerontologist, 53(1), 17-25.