Interview with Billerica Police Department About How SafetyNet Saves Lives

Host Sergeant Bill West interviews guests Sergeant John Harring and Ralph Poland of Safety Net. The SafetyNet® Tracking Systems Service provides law enforcement and public safety agencies with training, equipment and proven technology to help them quickly find and rescue individuals with cognitive conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s who wander and become lost while enrolled in the SafetyNet® Tracking Systems Service.

National Study on Wandering

We at SafetyNet Tracking Systems would like to invite you to participate in a very important survey concerning caregivers and the issues and concerns associated with wandering. This survey is part of a major national study that is being conducted by the Cohens Children’s Medical Center in New York and is in cooperation with several organizations such as the National Autism Association. The information that you provide in this survey will help all to understand the many issues associated with wandering and could help to save lives. Even if your loved one has never wandered, they would appreciate your input–they want to hear from as many families as possible.

Please take a few minutes to complete the confidential survey at

8 Steps for Preventing Wandering During the Holidays


It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but for families with children at risk of wandering, the holidays can also be a time of anxiety and fear. Wandering is a common and potentially deadly behavior for people with autism. Last week, a teenager with autism in Orlando wandered away after a family get-together and was tragically found dead a few days later. With the holidays come temptations, such as decorations and presents, and stressors, such as crowds and noise, both of which can lead to wandering. Traveling may also take you to unfamiliar locations, through crowded traveling hubs such as airports and train stations, and away from the safety systems you’ve put in place. As hard as the holidays may be for those with special needs, there are some steps you can take to make sure that you and your family have a safe and joyous holiday.

  1. Use picture books to help familiarize your child with things they may encounter. There are a lot of unfamiliar sights and sounds during the holidays that your child may not know how to handle. Pick up a variety of picture books that will both tell stories that explain why so many things are different this time of year and will show pictures of things that your child may find alarming, confusing, or tempting. The better your child understands what’s happening, the less likely they are to wander either to or away from unfamiliar sites. You can also make your own picture books. Take pictures of your house, neighborhood, and town to show your child changes that are happening in their environment so that they will feel safer and more comfortable with these changes. Leave these books out so that your child may look through them on their own any time they want to.
  2. Introduce your child in person to new things in a controlled environment. After your child has had time to digest the picture books and become more comfortable with the coming changes, introduce them to changes in person and let them interact with them in a controlled environment. This will both make them less frightening and less tempting. For example, take your child to the mall when it isn’t busy and let them interact with the decorations.
  3. Decorate slowly over time. Sudden change is difficult for children with autism, so you shouldn’t decorate the entire house all at once. This can cause them a lot of stress. Instead, put the tree up one day, the lights up another day, and add presents on a third day. Prepare your child with the picture books and stories beforehand, and let them interact with what they want to during the process so that they are familiar with it.
  4. Know how much noise and activity your child can handle, and have a quiet place available if they need it. You know your child better than anyone else. Avoid any situations that you think may be too much for your child, such as a crowded mall the week before Christmas, and if your child seems to be getting overwhelmed, take them somewhere quiet to regroup.
  5. Avoid stressful situations while traveling. Airports and train stations can always be difficult, but during busy traveling seasons they can overwhelm anyone. Many of the steps already discussed can help ease stressful travel. Read picture books about flying or taking the train with your child to help them understand the process of boarding and traveling. Take them to the airport or train station a week or two before you’re traveling to help them become accustomed with the planes, trains, location, and procedures. You should also make the process of traveling as familiar and comfortable for them as you can by bringing their favorite foods, toys, or other items with you to calm them in stressful situations. You should also playact scenarios with them, both so that they know how to behave while traveling, and so that you’ve thought through how you should best behave and keep track of them while at the airport or train station. You may also want to prepare them for problems that may pop up during traveling, such as a delayed flight, so that it won’t alarm them if it occurs.
  6. Create a family album to prepare them for family get-togethers. If there are going to be a lot of unfamiliar faces at a family get-together, you should prepare your child by introducing them to family members through pictures before the event. Create an album of family pictures and tell them stories about each family member who will be there while showing them the pictures. Leave this album somewhere they can access whenever they want to before the event. This will help relieve the stress of meeting a lot of people at once and make them less likely to wander.
  7. Talk with family members about how to interact with your child. Make sure to discuss your child’s comfort levels and what they are and aren’t comfortable with so that family members don’t accidentally overstep their boundaries. If your child is uncomfortable, they’re more likely to wander. Also warn any family members who may be watching your child about their tendency to wander and make sure they know the procedures necessary to keep your child safe. Often children who wander and get lost were with grandparents, aunts, or uncles who didn’t fully understand the danger.
  8. Create a safe space for your child. If you’re away from home for the holiday, your child may not have their usual refuges for if a situation becomes stressful or overwhelming. This adds onto the stress already encountered because of unfamiliar people and places. When you first arrive at your holiday destination, find a place where your child can safely escape and calm down if there are issues. Introduce your child to this location, and playact scenarios with them so that they know where to go if they become stressed. Keep an eye on your child during holiday events, and take them to this location if you see them becoming overwhelmed. Make sure that it’s a location that you can easily see or access so that you don’t run into a scenario where you think they’re there but they’ve actually left the building.

Holidays can be stressful, but by following these steps, you can make sure that it’s a happy and safe holiday for everyone involved. Happy holidays!

NAA to Host Capitol Hill Briefing on Autism & Wandering

Scott Martin, Director, SafetyNet will be speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing on Autism & Wandering on Tuesday, May 19th, in Washington, DC.
Sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the briefing will address the dangers of wandering and the need for federal resources that could come from passing Avonte’s Law.

Event speakers will include:
Scott Badesch, president/chief executive officer, The Autism Society
Robert Lowery, Jr., vice president, Missing Children Division, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Scott Martin, director, SafetyNet; State Police Captain (Retired), Connecticut State Police
Lori McIlwain, co-founder and board chairperson, National Autism Association
Special video remarks by Danny Oquendo, brother of Avonte Oquendo

Capitol Hill Briefing on Autism & Wandering:
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
1:00pm to 2:30pm
Russell Senate Building, Room 485
RSVP by 05/15/15 to [email protected]

Autism Safety Training Workshop for First Responders

SafetyNet Director Scott Martin has been asked to speak at the National Autism Association’s Annual Conference this week in St Petersburg, Florida. His subject matter will be using technology to assist in searches for missing people with cognitive conditions and he will be presenting to a group of First Responders who are tasked with this responsibility.

See more information at

Scott is a 29 year law enforcement veteran and retired as a Captain from the Connecticut State Police in 2006. Scott came to SafetyNet in 2008 to take a position as the Law Enforcement Director and in January 2013, Scott was appointed as Director of SafetyNet where he is responsible for overseeing all SafetyNet operations nationwide.

Finding a Wanderer Quickly and Bringing Them Home

From Paradise Home Health Care

Danger, Risk, Fear, Anxiety, Stress, Confusion all set in when a loved one with impaired judgment wanders off. Wandering is a behavior not uncommon to Alzheimer’s disease, other Dementias or Autism. Children and Seniors with some type of cognitive disability may wander off – and not be able to return home safely.

Living in South Florida, it is a daily occurence to see a Silver Alert – seeking an older senior who has driven off. Wandering by foot is one thing, by car, panic, and the person must be located as soon as possible.

Some ideas are helpful in preventing the wandering:

1. Medication. 2. Top bolt on upper part of the door 3. Bells on door odf their room and leading outside 4. Hiring an aide or companion at night

and still, a determined person can get away, it happens in a moment— as any watchful parent can attest to. It is a good idea to let neighbors know if your loved one may wander, and put your fist name and phone number in their wallet so you can be called.

Fortunately, technology has come up with a quick and easy way to locate an elderly (or child, teen) family member who has “gotten away”. SafetyNet by Lo/Jack has Radio Frequency Technology put into a lightweight button worn around the wrist which can find a person, usually within 30 minutes.

Unlike other GPS types of technology, this is waterproof, locates in dense areas like woods or where there are many buildings together and it is used in conjunction with Law Enforcement.

So if you are living with and caring for a person with diminished capacity, brain damage or a dementia and wanders off, do your best to keep them safe and consider adding this extra layer of protection and peace of mind. Should your parent, grandparent get out of the house or away from you in a Mall, SafetyNet by Lo/Jack will be able to find them in short order.

Technology will help in other ways too in preventing the person from wandering off undetected but somehow, some folks still wander off so finding and returning them home safely before any danger can happen is equally important.

5 Summer Safety Tips

Keeping a child with autism safe is a full time job for caregivers.  When summer arrives, a whole new list of things to worry about pops up: New babysitter, new routines, camp, pools, playgrounds, and the ever popular Ice Cream Truck.

Here are 5 tips on keeping your child with autism safe this summer:

  1. Talk to Your “New” Neighbors: It’s safe to assume your neighbors already know about your child. But what if you rent a cottage or beach house on vacation this summer?  Go over to talk to those “new” neighbors. Give them a handout with a picture of your child and emergency contact information.  You may also want to describe your child’s fears and effective ways to approach, communicate and calm your child. Ask them to contact you immediately if they see a child wandering away without supervision. Take note of your surroundings: Does the cottage next door have a hot tub or a swing set?  These are potential places your child might be found.
  2. Stress the Need for Constant Supervision to New Babysitters: Make sure any new caregiver or babysitter understands that your child will wander away and needs supervision at all times while playing, regardless if it’s inside or out.  Fairly innocent things can trigger an elopement: a new playground, a fire engine driving by, or perhaps the Ice Cream Truck just pulled up.  Children with autism will cross a street without looking both ways so the caregiver will definitely need to walk your child (regardless of his/her age) across the street to get that Popsicle. Consider buying a harness if the caregiver seems reluctant to take your child outside due to the possibility of wandering. Harnesses are a choice only the parent can make. Make sure you buy one that both you and your child are happy with.
  3. Special Diet Awareness: Speaking of Popsicles, alert any caregivers or camps of your child’s special diet such as gluten free.  Fridge locks are also a good idea. If unsupervised for even a short time, a child could potentially eat something out of the refrigerator that could make them sick, such as raw food. A fridge lock would prevent that from happening. And just to be safe, have the Poison Control Emergency Number (1-800-222-1222) posted throughout the house in places where it cannot be easily removed or misplaced. Your child could ingest anything from aluminum foil to baby powder and Poison Control can help any panicky caregiver.
  4. Teach Swimming at an Early Age: People with autism are drawn to water sources such as pools, ponds and lakes.  Statistics show that accidental drowning is the leading cause of death for autistic children and adults.  Swimming lessons could prove to be invaluable. However, small children can tire easily so even if they know how to swim they may not be able to do it for very long.  Assist child in and out of the pool. If the choice were theirs, they would just walk straight into the deep end. See tip #2 about constant supervision!!
  5. Consider a Personal Tracking Device:  A Radio Frequency (RF) device, such as SafetyNet, is ideal for people at risk of wandering, because it has strong signals that can penetrate any physical obstruction.  With an RF device, you child can be found in places that a GPS or cellular product cannot reach, such as in a wooded area or concrete building. And it’s waterproof!

14-Year-Old Boy with Autism Rescued After Wandering into Woods

Shortly after 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 a Search and Rescue team from the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department (Massachusetts) set out to look for a missing 14-year-old Norwell boy with autism who is enrolled in the SafetyNet Service.  By using the SafetyNet tracking equipment, the first responders from both the Plymouth County Sheriff’s and the Norwell Police Departments were able to pick up the boy’s Radio Frequency signal which was being emitted from the SafetyNet bracelet he wears.

Within 25 minutes the child was found hiding in a heavily wooded area a short distance from his home. He was unharmed and returned safely to his family.

This was the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department’s third rescue of a person wearing a SafetyNet bracelet.

Like the SafetyNet Facebook Page to Donate $5!

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, SafetyNet is going to donate $5 for each new Like they get on their Facebook Page during the month of April (2012, of course!)

The money raised will be donated to The Big Red Safety Box program. Back in February, the National Autism Association announced the 2nd launch of The Big Red Safety Box, of which we were a sponsor, and all 1,000 boxes were claimed within hours.

The Big Red Safety Box includes educational materials, door alarms, a wearable ID, and visual prompts to deter children and adults from exiting their homes. Because at least 18 students with autism were reported missing over the last six months after leaving a school or school bus, visual prompts may also be used for classroom and other non-home settings.

The sooner the NAA can raise the money to put together the Big Red Safety Boxes, the sooner they can get them into the hands of those who need them!


The Oxygen Mask Project

The Oxygen Mask Project was founded by Shannon Knall and Alysia Butler.  A special thank you to both of them for allowing us to share this with our readers.

In the event that the cabin loses pressure, pull oxygen mask toward you to start oxygen flow. Put your oxygen mask on as quickly as possible. Help children and others with their masks only after yours is secure.

Once upon a time, a group of special needs moms started talking about their lives.

They talked about how devoted they are to their children and to making sure that their kids’ needs are met.

But somewhere along the way, they had forgotten to take care of themselves.


It’s a matter of survival when we fly.  We need to be able to breathe on our own before we can help our children.

We listen when we’re on a plane.

Why don’t we listen in our daily lives?

To care for others, you have to take care of yourself as well. Too often, we feel guilty as parents when we take time to do something that is just for us.

It’s time to realize that when parents take care of themselves first, it’s not selfish.

It’s survival.

It’s how we can keep giving our best to our children.

We started this project to help parents remember that they need to breathe and take a moment to do something special for themselves each day. We wanted to give parents a place to feel supported when they take that moment to catch their breath.

We’re not talking spa vacation.  We’re talking sitting down for a meal.  Drinking our coffee when it’s hot. Or going for a walk.  Taking a nap.  Buying a new outfit.

Guilt free.


The “Oxygen Mask Project” has two parts.  One piece is our blog.  We feature stories from parents about what they are doing for themselves.  These stories are the foundation for our project – the place where people can sit and reflect and gather ideas for making changes in their daily lives.

The second part is our Facebook page.  Join us there and post what you are doing that day for you.  We will cheer you on.  Others will too.  We want to know things like “went for a walk alone” or “went to the gym for the first time today” or “started back at college”.  We’re cheering people on via Twitter too, so join us there as well.

This project is about us.  Making little changes in our lives and supporting each other along the way.

Strength in numbers.

Let’s take that first deep breath together.


Shannon Knall is the mother of three boys; one with autism. She co-founded and serves as the Executive Director of Well Served Tennis Academy, a tennis camp for children with autism.  She has been the Connecticut Autism Speaks Advocacy Chair for Autism Speaks for four years, and responsible for leading grassroots campaigns to secure the passage and implementation of six autism-related bills (including insurance reform), along with securing co-sponsorship of federal legislation from Connecticut’s Washington delegation. She is the founder of the Greater Hartford chapter of Autism Speaks and the Inaugural Walk chair. With the help of a BCBA, Shannon developed the autism awareness Boot Camp used to train and educate businesses, communities and political leaders around Connecticut. For her activism, she is the recipient of the Congressional Certificate of Recognition from Congressman Chris Murphy, and in addition to her leadership in the autism community, serves on the Economic Development Commission in her home town of Simsbury, Connecticut.

Alysia Butler lives in Massachusetts and is the mother of three boys, two with autism spectrum disorder.  She is the managing editor of the SPD Blogger Network, and writes at Try Defying Gravity, her personal blog recounting the joys and challenges of raising three young boys. Her work has been published in The Boston Globe and Bay State Parenting Magazine, and online at Mamapedia, Autism Speaks and The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and is a monthly contributor to the Hopeful Parents website.  She also serves on her local special education parent advisory committee in her hometown.