Sheriff's office offers help in locating missing people

There has never been a better time for at-risk or endangered residents to get lost in Washington County as the sheriff’s office has started the Help Me Home program that every police agency in the county except one can utilize.

The new program dovetails with the exiting Project Lifesaver program run by the sheriff’s office.

Help Me Home is a voluntary enrollment program for adults and children who may become lost due to a disability and may have difficulty communicating such vital information as their name, address or phone number.

A photo and pertinent information on those registered in the program, which is kept confidential, are placed in a database that deputies and law enforcement personnel can access via laptops in their patrol cruisers.

Each Project Lifesaver participant wears a plastic bracelet containing a waterproof radio transmitter assigned a radio frequency unique to them and their geographical area. When someone in the program is reported missing, deputies respond immediately using radio-frequency tracking equipment.

“Our biggest search in 2013 was for someone who disappeared from a care facility,” said Sgt. Dan Cardinal, supervisor of the search and rescue program with the WCSO patrol division. “He was in the Project Lifesaver program and had just had his photo taken that day and was even wearing the same clothing.”

The person who calls 9-1-1 to report a missing person is usually the caregiver or employee at a care facility, “and they are so stressed when they make that call that they can’t remember where to find a photo of the missing person,” said Marcia Langer, WCSO senior program educator.

Cardinal added, “The first minutes are critical, and this is an emergency. We will pull in resources from other areas to where the person went missing. We notify TriMet immediately and get the description of the person out to have more sets of eyes looking for them.”

He added, “Sometimes a member of the public will call 9-1-1 to report someone acting strangely and give a description of the person. The deputies can enter the description in their laptops to see if it matches someone in the Help Me Home database, which we started implementing in September.”

Both programs involve a cost to participants, but most family members would agree it is well worth it.

There is a $20 registration fee to enroll in Help Me Home and cover the first two years, which can then be renewed every two years, but if families can’t afford it, there is funding available through a tax-deductible donation program.

Project Lifesaver, which was started in 2008, is more expensive because it involves equipment that must be maintained. The initial cost of the bracelet is $300, plus there is a monthly maintenance fee of $25, billed on a quarterly basis, to pay for the bracelet and monthly replacement batteries, although there are limited scholarship funds available to those who cannot cover the cost of the bracelet, and the program includes a one-month free trial.

If someone in the Project Lifesaver program goes missing, the radio signal from the wristband transmits about one mile, and deputies who carry the radio-frequency tracking equipment in their patrol vehicles conduct the search.

Although Washington County is huge, “our patrol staff has more than 150 personnel,” Cardinal said. “We have four shifts in 24 hours that overlap.”

This is in addition to the police officers on duty in the various cities in Washington County who can access the information on missing persons registered in the Help Me Home program and be on the lookout for them as well.

“We can have a lot of eyes and ears,” Cardinal said. “We have heavy resources out there, and we can send people to check different areas. We start at the point where the person went missing and search in a circular pattern. We can work a pretty big area.

“This is a nice tool for us using effective technology. Help Me Home is a good supplement to Project Lifesaver.”

He pointed out that the sheriff’s office has seen a drastic increase in people lost in urban areas as opposed to rural areas.

“We are looking for more lost people all the time, and we are being more proactive in this county,” Langer said.

Cardinal added, “Washington County is ahead of the curve on this, and we are taking steps to prevent people from dying from the elements.”

However, Langer pointed out that “the programs are only as successful as the number of people registered in them. I look at the 9-1-1 calls, and if an endangered person has gone missing, I will call the family to ask if they know about these programs, and the deputies leave information when they return someone home.”

And if families can’t get a photo to the county or fill out the forms online, “we will go to them,” Langer said. “A couple of times a deputy has gone to the home with a camera and the paperwork.”

For more information on Take Me Home, visit, or for information on both programs, contact Langer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-846-6048.

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