Gene Saunders- The Father of Radio Tracking Recovery Of Lost At-Risk People

Project Lifesaver International non profit Organization Gene Saunders

At the onset of technological advancements, one of the most beneficial technology for healthcare was that of wireless. But to use it in a way to save lives was a project after all. Gene Saunders, an army personnel started Project Lifesaver International to address this issue, and to leverage technology in healthcare. 

Autism and Alzheimer’s are neurodegenerative disorders that cause memory loss. People with these disorders have a tendency of wandering off and it gets hard to track them. It is mainly because these people will not respond to their name being taken, or even hide, or have just completely forgotten what place they are and where they live. Many people have lost their loved ones due to this. 

Featuring for The Enterprise World’s this issue of Top 5 Successful Entrepreneurs To Watch In 2022 is Gene Saunders, the father of radio tracking recovery of lost at-risk people.

About Gene-

Gene has served 14 years in the US Army National Guard, Infantry (Ranger) leaving as a Major. He then joined the Chesapeake Police Department in Virginia in 1968 where he served and commanded every Bureau, except Traffic. 

Later in 1974, Gene founded the Swat Team where he went on to serve as the Commander for over 23 years and completed over 800 missions. He has also founded the Citizens Police Academy, Handicap Parking Enforcement Unit. In the year 2001, Gene Retired as Captain and then focused on Project Lifesaver International. Project Lifesaver International today has had a growth of 1,700 agency members in 50 states, 9 provinces in Canada with approximately 4,000 rescues without a failure. 

What Inspired to Start Project Lifesaver International-

Having held various command positions throughout his career, Gene decided to bring in his expertise and authority to start something that would save lives. With his ability to reason, make decisions and implement it, his discipline enabled him to develop a function when things appeared to be going against. 

“The training in Airborne and Ranger developed a never quit attitude and the feeling I could overcome anything.”

While in the Police Dept., the SWAT Team had the responsibility for search and rescue. But when watching each case closely, Gene found that there were more searches for missing Alzheimer’s patients which were costing the department a whole lot of time, manpower and money, and had very poor outcomes. 

Meanwhile, he came across a brochure concerning wildlife tracking and reasoned that the same method could be used with at-risk persons. This would save lives, time as well as money. Project Lifesaver International is a project close to his heart because he developed it with a feeling of serving the mankind.

About Project Lifesaver International-

Project Lifesaver International is a 501c3 non-profit organization which trains and develop public safety agencies to establish and maintain the program in their area. 

“We train their personnel on equipment use, program development and promotion, as well as, how to interact with the people they will serve and maybe have to locate.”

The team uses radio frequency tracking from wrist transmitters which have proven, over the years to be the most effective and reliable technology for this use. 

Project Lifesaver is a community based, public safety, non-profit organization that provides law enforcement, fire/rescue, and caregivers with a program designed to protect, and when necessary, quickly locate individuals with cognitive disorders who are prone to the life-threatening behaviour of wandering. The organization was founded in 1999 in Chesapeake, Virginia. 

The necessity of this program was determined through the correlation between cognitive conditions and the act of wandering.  With the dramatic increase of cognitive conditions since the inception of the organization, the program has grown from a localized program to a program recognized internationally as a proven and effective method of “bringing loved ones home.”

Project Lifesaver was the first to apply such locating techniques to aid in the search and rescue of individuals, and is the most widely used and proven most effective program in the nation that is specifically designed to protect the “At Risk” populations in communities. 

The program was structured in a way that strategically combined state of the art locating technologies, innovative search and rescue methods, and community policing courses that educated first responders about cognitive conditions. The search times for certified Project Lifesaver agencies have been reduced from hours, potentially days, down to minutes.  Recovery times for Project Lifesaver agencies average 30 minutes, which is 95% less time than standard operations without Project Lifesaver.

Locating Alzheimer’s and Autism Patients-

Nearly half of the families have reported lost children or parents who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Alzheimer’s. The two disorders are such that cause brain degeneration, which then leads to memory loss. Unless accompanied by an adult, there is a strong chance that these people can get lost. 

As a caregiver of an individual with the propensity to wander, before an elopement occurs, the first measure of safety to take is wandering prevention. To learn how you can prevent your loved one from wandering, Project Lifesaver has provided these helpful tools and resources for you.

As Gene would put it- 

“Prior to Project Lifesaver, it was a tremendous challenge, as they follow no pattern and will go places where a so-called normal person would not go. They also do not respond to calling out their name and many times will hide. Project Lifesaver enables searching personnel to locate the person regardless of where they may be.”

How Does Project Lifesaver Program Work?

The Project Lifesaver Program is run at a municipality level by public safety agencies. When an agency decides to implement the program, Project Lifesaver International will equip them with the necessary technologies and provide training to those involved. The training includes the use of the equipment, the implementation of the strategic methods specifically designed for the program, and also community policing courses that provide a basic understanding of cognitive conditions to better comprehend the behaviours of an individual with said condition. 

Also included during training is the use of the PLS Database, which is a useful resource provided to member agencies at no cost. Completion of training is required for certification. Once an agency has become certified, they may begin acquiring clients for their local program.

The method relies on proven radio technology and specially trained search and rescue teams. Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small transmitter on the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized frequency signal. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer’s area. 

The first responders will then use the client’s individualized frequency to locate the position of the individual. The knowledge given from the community policing courses is best applied in this situation because the first responders will know how to best approach the client once found, and allow them to be brought back to safety.

Project Lifesaver International Program Essentials-

Project Lifesaver International cares deeply for the special needs community and does not intend to make safety a matter of finances, location, or otherwise. 

Battery Life: 

Project Lifesaver offers two kinds of transmitters, a 30 day and 60 day. This means the battery needs to be changed every 30 days or 60 days, with daily battery checks to ensure peak performance. They have not opted for a 6-month battery, as they believe a “set it and forget it” mentality leads to equipment malfunctions and missed community connections. 


While it is true that the distance RF transmitters can be picked up is less than GPS, it is far more reliable when pinpointing the location of a missing individual. Dense materials, tall buildings, large/rough terrain, and large trees can block or reduce GPS signal strength and may make it impossible to determine a location. 


The Project Lifesaver program is often funded through grants, sponsorships, and donations. Through this, many of the partnered agencies offer PLI bracelets to clients for free. If an agency decides to charge any fees, they are often minimal or a one-time fee. This is significantly less than their competitors, who implement annual contracts and recurring monthly fees. 

Sensory Inclusivity: 

At Project Lifesaver, the team strives to be aware and inclusive of sensory needs. That is why they offer different band sizes, materials, and textures. These are worn 24/7, except when taken off by a public safety official to change the battery. Constant wear allows for the individual to become accustomed to the feeling of the bracelet. 

Public Safety Involvement: 

Public safety agencies should be specially trained to interact with individuals with cognitive conditions. Doing so provides public safety agencies with the added knowledge to have positive and safe encounters. Products that omit this vital part are placing an unnecessary barrier between public safety agencies and the communities they serve. 

To summarize, Project Lifesaver is a program, not a product, that uses time-tested radio frequency technology to provide families peace-of-mind that their loved ones can be found if they wander. By implementing community involvement, public safety agencies, and specific training, Project Lifesaver will continue to bring loved one’s home.

Project Lifesaver International- A Step Apart!

Since 1999, Project Lifesaver International has had one thing in mind: protecting those that wander. Their program is specifically designed for those with conditions that lead to wandering, such as Autism, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and many more. Project Lifesaver International program was structured in a way that strategically combines state of the art locating technologies, innovative search and rescue methods, and community policing courses that educate first responders about cognitive conditions. 

These practices allow for efficient and safe rescues when a loved one wanders away from their home or caregiver, while not being invasive. This gives caregivers and loved ones peace-of-mind and freedom. Unlike their competitors, Project Lifesaver International are a 501 (c)(3) non-profit. 

“We are a program, not a product.”


Project Lifesaver International is the Original – not a copy! PLI strives to find innovative ideas to improve the methods of “bringing loved ones home!”


Project Lifesaver reduces the time, funds, and manpower needed for search and rescue missions involving a wandering individual.


Project Lifesaver International is more than wearable locating technology; it’s a program comprised of components specifically designed to protect “at risk” individuals.


Project Lifesaver International is the most widely used and proven most effective SAR program designed for “at risk” populations.


Project Lifesaver International bridges the gap between first responders and their communities. Relationships are formed, and trust is built.


Project Lifesaver International provides caregivers peace of mind knowing their loved ones are protected in the event of elopement.

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