Lost & found

By Tammy Keith Published February 5, 2012 at 2:32 a.m.
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— The first time Christy Etters’ autistic 8-year old son, Jackson, wandered away from their Conway home, his great uncle found him; the second time, Jackson’s grandmother picked him up.

If it happens again, despite all her precautions, the new Premise Alert System at the Conway Police Department will let officers immediately know who Jackson is and what he looks like.

“There’s a form you fill out as caretaker of a special-needs person - they could have Alzheimer’s - it’s a range of disabilities,” Etters said.

When someone who is signed up for the voluntary program calls 911, the disabled person’s information and photo, if one has been provided, will pop up on all the computer screens of first responders.

“I don’t have to wait until the police officers get to my house, and then I have to find a picture of him,” Etters said. “I don’t have to tell the story 10 times to 10 different people. It cuts the start time looking for your child down dramatically.”

Conway Police Chief A.J. Gary agreed that the new system will save officers time.

“The actual photograph can be sent out from the dispatch center to the [police] cars in the field. It’s not a matter of OK, we’ve got to go by the house and get a picture,” he said.

“Gosh, how many times have we made copies of a picture to hand out to the officers ?”

Etters found the Premise Alert System in her desperation to find something to help monitor Jackson if he walks away again.

She talked to the company representative in Pennsylvania, who contacted Gary by email.

“It piqued my interest right off the bat,” Gary said.

The incident had occurred with Jackson, and another person with disabilities wandered off shortly after that.

“It was kind of these two things back to back, but especially the one with Jackson,” Gary said.

He set up a panel, which included Etters, to discuss the matter.

“We’ve had a few incidents over the years, especially with Alzheimer’s patients or individuals who have wandered off,” he said.

Gary said any Conway resident who has a special-needs person in the household may come to the Conway Police Station, 1105 Prairie St., and fill out the four-page form.

It has questions relating to the person’s physical appearance, as well as date of birth, address, emergency-contact information and relevant medical conditions.

Gary said the information would be useful for fire or medical personnel, too.

Etters said the form can be used to explain that a disabled person has seizures or medication allergies.

“They know before they get there what they’re walking into,” she said.

Another section on the form asks the person to list “additional information first responders may need.”

Etters said that could be something such as the special-needs child likes to hide in a closet when he’s scared, information that could be lifesaving during a fire, she said.

Gary said the Conway Police Department is the only department in Arkansas that he knows of that is using the free system.

“There really is no cost other than the man-hours of us entering the information,” Gary said.

“As far as we can tell, nobody in Arkansas has done this,” he said.

“There are a few companies that charge for different things, but nobody is doing this in Arkansas.”

He said the form eventually will be online.

“I think this is a good program,” Gary said. “Anything helps, so we’ll see how well it does over the next few months and years.”

For more information, call the Conway Police Department at (501) 450-6120.

Etters said although there were chimes on the doors before, she has taken extra precautions at home.

The first time, Jackson walked from their home early one morning while his mother was asleep and his father was walking Jackson’s autism service dog.

The second time, still in his pajamas, Jackson hopped on his bicycle before abandoning it and walking toward his grandmother’s house.

Now, Jackson’s bicycle is padlocked, as is the backyard gate, Etters said.

She feels better, however, knowing there’s a system in place that could help find him, or another child, if something happens.

“I honestly don’t feel like I did anything except bring [the system] to the police chief ’s attention, and he took it and ran,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline. com

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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