Gene Saunders, Founder and CEO, Project Lifesaver International

In today’s fast-paced world, key components to help locate individuals exhibiting cognitive conditions that could lead to harm are the awareness of surrounding locations like streets, buildings, landmarks, time, the ability to harness the power of emerging technologies, essential resources, and disaster relief sites. Having all these elements at one’s disposal is critical to public safety personnel and the disaster relief workforce to keep life-threatening behavior at bay and minimize property loss. Today, public safety communities have the unique opportunity to completely revamp their communication technologies and operational capabilities with several advancing technologies and the expansion of broadband wireless networks. Apart from ensuring the perfect combination of the elements mentioned above, for this project to successfully work, safety personnel and disaster relief workforces need to stop looking at it as a business and attempt to heavily capitalize on it.

Keeping this in mind, Gene Saunders came to the aid by founding Project Lifesaver International. What sets this organization apart from all the other options in the market, you ask? Simply put, Project Lifesaver International functions as a non-profit organization that does not perceive wandering protection and prevention as a market. The organization was established with a strong focus on providing vulnerable groups and their caregivers the support and security required.

Improving Quality of Life despite Cognitive Disorders

Gene Saunders, Founder, and CEO of Project Lifesaver International, founded the organization in 1999 to protect and locate individuals that may wander and get lost due to various cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, and Down syndrome. The organization is equipped to train public safety agencies across the country on search and rescue procedures, techniques, and equipment. The organization has grown to a membership of over 1,700 agencies in the US and Canada and is responsible for more than 3900 individuals being located and returning home quickly and safely. “It has been so successful that several for-profit companies have tried to take over the organization unsuccessfully,” reveals Gene Saunders, Founder, and CEO of Project Lifesaver International.

Enabling Efficient Rescue of Eloped Persons

The organization has a dedicated team whose job is to stay ahead of the evolving technology curve. The team is continually invested in research and development to ensure the program utilizes the latest and most effective technologies. This tremendously helps prevent wandering and the recovery of a client in the event of elopement/emergency. “I believe the biggest trends are in the use of technology to boost productivity and the remote working situation. Project Lifesaver consistently works to develop new, smarter ways to get our job done using computer technology and the development of new electronic tracking equipment. We have also started using more positions in the organizations working from home or remote stations,” informs Gene.

He tells us that Innovative SAR Methods and Community Policing Courses are the other two components belonging to the organization’s three-pronged strategic approach to battling humans suffering from cognitive conditions. When first responders onboard one of the Community Policing Courses, they are provided with a basic understanding of cognitive conditions, the necessary tools needed to respond to an elopement, and are taught to assess and effectively manage the safe and comfortable return of an eloped client. Also included during training is the use of the PLS Database, which is a useful resource that is extended to the member agencies at no cost.

Better Trained Workforce Equals Safer Individuals

Furthermore, the completion of training is required for certification. Gene adds, “As a police officer and commander of the unit charged with search and rescue, we saw more searches were for Alzheimer’s patients that wandered and became lost. These searches often involved large amounts of manpower and time and were often unsuccessful. I decided to combine radio tracking with persons that may wander to help locate them faster with that in mind. The idea caught on with several public safety agencies, and it has grown into Project Lifesaver.” Over time, he has successfully leveraged advancing technologies to recover individuals that may be lost or in the way of harm due to certain cognitive conditions.

In essence, the leading search and rescue program operated by public safety communities all over the globe has been strategically designed for ‘at risk’ individuals who are susceptible to the life-threatening behavior of wandering unsupervised. The primary mission of Project Lifesaver is to provide timely responses to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children that may possess the tendency to wander off on their own due to certain cognitive conditions. “Project Lifesaver was the first organization to address the problem of wandering and has become the Gold Standard in the field in which others who try to emulate the program are measured,” proudly proclaims Gene.

The Man Behind the Scenes and His Journey

A simple man that began working toward protecting and, if required locating individuals with cognitive conditions, Gene started his career as a motel desk clerk that moved on to become a Credit Manager, Police Officer to finally establish Project Lifesaver and watch it grow over the past 23 years. “I like to think of myself as a leader, as I am the Founder and CEO. I believe I bring the passion for the mission and allow staff to try innovative ideas to further our mission,” says Gene as he inspires others to help create a safer environment and propel the company mission to newer heights. He continually strives to ensure public safety and, as such, has dedicated every hour of his day to do so. “My workday is 24 hours a day. I am always available to our agencies for questions and/or problems. I unplug by spending time with my wife and traveling when I can,” reveals Gene.

When quizzed on any advice he may want to share with the audience as the interview comes to a near end, he says, “Hire and develop good people and look out for them. One should keep their guard up when dealing with other organizations and have alternate plans if needed.”

Over two decades dedicated toward this space, Project Lifesaver still believes it has massive potential to grow and become something bigger than all of us in the years to come. Project Lifesaver will continue to expand its organization by developing new technology, improved service to its members, and a constant flow of information to them. An exciting advancement being made by the team is that they are currently working on developing new technology with drones and home monitoring via Bluetooth. Project Lifesaver is here to help us witness a revolutionary change.

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About Gene Saunders, Founder and CEO, Project Lifesaver International

Gene Saunders served 33 years with the Chesapeake Police Department serving in Patrol, Vice, Narcotics, Detectives, and Training. He even co-founded the Special Weapons and Tactics team in 1974 and served as a tactical commander and commander for 23 years with over 800 operations. Gene went on to retire in 2001 as a Captain. He then served in National Guard and State Defense Force in Infantry, Airborne, and Ranger Units in leadership and command positions. He also served in the US Air Force Aux. (Civil Air Patrol) as a Senior Squadron (Ranger) commander and 5 years as Commandant of the Middle East Region Staff College. He founded Project Lifesaver International in 1999 and has overseen its growth ever since.

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