MOULTRIE -- When Lt. Jerry Green assembled the apparatus, he looked like a naturalist on Wild Kindgom or The Discovery Channel.
Except for the Colquitt County Sheriff's Office badge on his belt.
The three-element antenna wired to the metal box would look familiar to anyone who watches animals-in-the-wild documentaries. It uses the same technology to track its target as the naturalists on those documentaries use to track animals. The only difference: Instead of zebras or bears, this telemetry device tracks people.
The Care Trak system hit the market in the late 1980s, a spinoff from a similar system used to track wild animals. Its target market is the families of Alzheimer's disease patients and others who might wander away from their caregivers.
And now, thanks to the Pilot Club of Moultrie, Colquitt County has it.
The club became interested a couple of years ago when member Cherie Searcy attended a seminar. The Pilot Club of Warner Robins and Perry had already implemented Care Trak in Houston County, Searcy said, and its presentation showed her great potential for its use here.
The Pilot Club's charitable emphasis is on preventing and dealing with brain injuries and illness. Several members know first-hand about the effects of Alzheimer's, one of which can be a tendency to wander.
Sometimes the wandering proves fatal if the weather is bad or if the patient doesn't have access to needed medicines.
So Moultrie's Pilot Club applied for a grant from Pilot Club International in October 2002 and raised matching funds through its Wee Bit of Moultrie dining event in 2003. Searcy and five Colquitt County deputies went through training by the makers of Care Trak in August of last year, and on Monday the Pilot Club presented the sheriff's office with the tracking equipment.
Here's how it works:
Anyone interested can purchase a wristband transmitter about the size and shape of a wristwatch for $300. Payment options are available, Searcy said, and the club will try to find a sponsor for anyone who wants the transmitter but can't afford it. The county currently has 10 transmitters available.
The Alzheimer's patient wears the wristband all the time. Caregivers are urged to check the battery daily, and a Pilot Club member will come to the patient's home and change the battery once per month.
If the patient is lost, the caregiver calls 911. A trained deputy picks up the tracking equipment from the 911 office as he responds to the search. The antenna and monitor are the most expensive part of the system, and the Pilot Club donated them to the sheriff's department Monday.
The transmitter emits a beep on a certain frequency. Each transmitter's frequency is different, and the monitor can be set to receive any one of 100 frequencies.
The monitor picks up the beep strongly when the antenna is pointed toward the source. By moving in the direction of the strongest beep, the searchers will move toward the missing person until they find him.
A Houston County deputy -- speaking to an Observer reporter in March 2003 -- said the search for a patient without Care Trak takes eight to 10 hours, for one with Care Trak only about one hour to an hour and 15 minutes.
"It works beautifully," Green agreed, citing his experience at the training session. "(It's) simple to operate but it's very effective."
With the headphones that are included, the system can even operate from a helicopter, such as the Georgia State Patrol helicopter based in Albany that is already called out for search and rescue efforts.
Searcy said Colquitt County has more than 1,100 Alzheimer's cases, and Care Trak could also be used to find patients with brain injuries or children with autism, who also frequently wander. She said the Pilot Club sent letters to schools, churches, doctors and nursing homes throughout Colquitt County to let them know Care Trak is available.
For more information, call Nell Striplin of the Pilot Club at 985-6123.