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York officers receive specialist training for Project Lifesaver

President of BAYSAR Air Search and Rescue in North Bay trained two tactical flight officers and two officers who instruct Project Lifesaver on the ground; every minute counts when trying to find a missing vulnerable person

An expert in airborne electronic search flew in to train several officers involved in York Regional Police's Project Lifesaver, which helps finds missing and vulnerable persons.

Every minute counts when trying to find a missing person and Project Lifesaver helps shorten the time to find people with a cognitive deficit like dementia or autism.

Project Lifesaver clients wear a small radio transmitter 24 hours a day and if they go missing, their family calls 911 so police equipped with tracking receivers can start a search.

The average time to find a Project Lifesaver client is 30 minutes, but when ground searchers can’t pick up a signal right away, being able to search from an aircraft makes the system work even better.

From May 30 to June 1, French, who is president of BAYSAR Air Search and Rescue in North Bay, provided specialist training to York Regional Police. As a result, four officers are now qualified to teach other YRP officers how to find missing Project Lifesaver clients from their air support unit helicopter to augment their current ground search program.

Discussions between York Regional Police and BAYSAR started last year.

Project Lifesaver agencies of Ontario held a networking meeting during which advances in airborne search techniques were presented by French. French explained how BAYSAR Air Search and Rescue was adapting the existing U.S.-based course for local use in North Bay.

At that time, there were no Canadian instructors available to provide a course in Ontario or eastern Canada. Since BAYSAR has volunteers with private aircraft, BAYSAR wanted to make the best use of the aircraft if they were called out by police to search for a client.

But with no one else teaching this skill, local efforts turned into a regionally available course. 

York Regional Police's air support unit includes civilian pilots and tactical flight officers trained in patrol and suspect tactics, airborne surveillance and advanced thermal imaging. 

French provided instruction on the ground and in the air to two tactical flight officers and two officers who already instruct Project Lifesaver on the ground.

The compressed course included searching for and locating at least five transmitters during the day and two transmitters at night. To manage the time in the air, each target transmitter needed to be located in less than 15 minutes. 

Former North Bay residents also played a part. Mike and Janice Wilson, now living in Holland Landing, happily volunteered to host a transmitter for a night evaluation flight and they recruited three of their friends to host evaluation targets. 

“York Regional Police see the Project Lifesaver program as an invaluable tool as we help serve the safety needs of our region’s most vulnerable citizens," said Const. Peter Gerulath. "Search and rescue incidents are emergencies that often require a significant amount of resources for an extended period of time. So, while improving the time taken to return a lost person to their loved ones, the Project Lifesaver program can alleviate a huge strain on resources."