BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Drones are soaring to new and historic heights in New Jersey.
Somerset County is the first county in the nation to equip search and rescue teams with this extra eye in the sky. Through snow storms and sunshine, in upwards of 30 mile-per-hour winds, their new drone brings next level search capabilities to Central Jersey.
“Doing something for our children with autism and something for our seniors with Alzheimer’s, we have to take care of them,” County Sheriff Frank Provenzano tells CBS2’s Meg Baker.
Since 2007, all 21 counties in New Jersey have been part of the Project Lifesaver program — where caregivers can purchase a wristband for loved ones with special needs that emits a tracking signal — but Somerset County is the first in the nation to launch the Project Lifesaver drone system.
The bracelet acts as a beacon, sending a signal up to the drone, giving authorities the ability to easily track someone wearing it from two to three miles away.
Due to terrain, a ground crew can only search within a mile radius. With their radio signals, the drone replaces the need for a helicopter.
“Now an officer can actually take this out of the trunk of his car and in ten minutes launch it, pick up the ground signal, and have the ground team in there without having to call in air born assets,” Project Lifesaver CEO Gene Saunders tells CBS2.
The drone is not yet equipped with a camera. Provenzano says that’s next, and residents say they’re all for the idea.
“It will allow people to have a little more freedom than they would normally have being attached to someone with those type of conditions,” Barbara Petrillo said.
“It’s great to have extra safety for parents and peace of mind,” Alex Bargiacci said.
So far, 23 children with autism or Down syndrome and 17 adults with dementia have signed up for the program, which is free. Families can sign up at the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.
Since launching Project Lifesaver, the county has performed 12 successful search and rescue missions.