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Home  >  Police Products  >  IT

October 14, 2013
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

Tiny tracker with a panic button could save lives

MedicAlert’s GPS + Essential device tracks wandering patients and special needs children

When I was a cop in the 1980s, manhunts for Alzheimer’s patients who had gone off on their own were fairly common. In the winter, the search was a race to find them before they died from exposure. As the baby boomer generation ages, this is going to be an increasingly frequent emergency.

A new product from MedicAlert may help mitigate that problem — not only for the families who will almost surely pay fifteen bucks a month to ensure the safety of their family members, but also for the officers who risk their lives to find at-risk persons. 

The MedicAlert Foundation has done good works for more than 50 years, supplying distinctive bracelets and neck chains bearing emblems to alert first responders of special medical problems. Their latest product is more high-tech and has special interest for first responders who deal with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and for children at unusual risk. 

GPS + Essential
The new device is a gadget about the size and shape of a domino tile, called the Medic Alert GPS + Essential. It’s normally worn on a neck chain or bracelet, but it can also be concealed in clothing or a backpack. Within the case is a GPS receiver and data radio capable of sending GPS coordinates and alerts to emergency contacts via the Verizon data network — a user doesn’t need to be a Verizon customer, but should ensure their area is serviced by the Verizon network. 

The person who has the access password for the GPS + Essential device account can log in via website, smartphone, or tablet and see the device’s last known location. On command, the network can “ping” the device and have it transmit an updated location. Users can also set a boundary or “fence” for that account, and be notified if the device leaves the boundary. This is valuable for Alzheimer’s patients who wander off, or for children who either go off on their own or are in danger of being abducted. 

The GPS + Essential also has a “panic button” that will send an alert to emergency contacts and MedicAlert’s emergency response center when held down for three seconds or more. The prolonged interval is to guard against accidental alerts. On receipt of a panic button press or if the device leaves the established boundary, text and email messages are sent to the emergency contacts for that device. 

The MedicAlert emergency response center also ensures the emergency contacts are notified of the alert. If they cannot reach the emergency contacts, MedicAlert notifies local law enforcement for that area. 

Battery life for the device is four to seven days, depending on how often the device is set to transmit its location without a prompt. The transmit interval is variable between five and 30 minutes. The internal battery recharges in about three hours. 

The GPS + Essential sells for $99, and has a monthly service fee of $14.95. 

Range of Services
I’m partial to MedicAlert, having been a member since the early 1960s. After a reaction to penicillin that I’m probably fortunate to not remember, my parents purchased MedicAlert emblem #582 for me to wear — the member numbers now run well into seven digits. I’ve since replaced the bracelet with a neck chain emblem, but it goes where I go. 

The emblems are stainless steel (other metals are available) and close to indestructible. If I’m ever found incapacitated, any hospital or first responder can call the 800 number on the emblem, give them the engraved member number, and obtain all of my emergency contact information, the name and phone number of my physician, the medications I take, and other critical information I update from time to time via the MedicAlert website. 

There are many copycat jewelry items sold that display the wearer’s medical problem, but none offer the range and depth of services that MedicAlert does. Their monitoring center, staffed 24 hours a day, answers over 5,000 emergency calls each year. 

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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