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Molinaro Announces Initiative for Individuals with Special Needs who Pose a Wandering Risk
‘Safe Return’ program provides life-saving technology to families in need

Published: 9/7/2017

For More Information Contact:

Colleen Pillus
(845) 486-2000

Poughkeepsie… Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro today joined local law enforcement officials and community leaders to announce the launch of “Safe Return,” an innovative program to assist local families of individuals diagnosed with a developmental disability who present a significant risk of wandering.

County Executive Molinaro holding personal tracking device“Safe Return” provides families with personal tracking and communication devices to connect individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities with help or be located when lost, ensuring they return home safely. Dutchess County Government is contracting with Life Button 24 to provide this services. The Life Button 24 device can be worn one of four ways: as a pendant, as a wristband, on a belt clip or in a pouch inside clothing. Through the use of geo-fencing – creating a virtual perimeter through the use of GPS – these families, as well as law enforcement, will be alerted if their loved one leaves a pre-determined area.

County Executive Molinaro said, “The risk of wandering is a very real concern for the families of many individuals with special needs. Through Dutchess County’s ‘Safe Return’ program, these families will have peace of mind, aware their loved ones can quickly be located and safely returned home, should they leave their sight. We’re proud to ‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY’ and support our neighbors of all abilities, and ‘Safe Return’ is the latest example of our efforts.”

In the pilot phase of the program, which begins today, up to 20 families will receive devices to use for the next four months; the program is funded by the Dutchess County Department of Community and Family Services (DCFS). Based on the families’ feedback, the program will likely be expanded in 2018 – not only for families of loved ones with special needs, but potentially for domestic violence survivors and seniors with Alzheimer’s disease.

Once the family sets up the desired perimeter, essentially geo-fencing the area with an invisible barrier detectable to the device, the Life Button 24 device can be used several ways:

  • If the person wearing the device leaves the pre-determined geographic boundaries, a 24-hour monitoring service will send a text message to the person’s family. Within minutes, if that text message goes unanswered, the 24-hour monitoring service will immediately contact 911 dispatchers to alert them the person has gone missing.
  • If the person wearing the device is in distress or feels they are lost, they can press a button on the device and be connected to a live operator at a 24-hour monitoring service to put them in touch with a family member. If necessary, the operator will contact 911 or a family member on the person’s behalf.
  • Each device comes with a unique phone number, to which families can text the word “TEXT” and receive a text message back with a map and the location of the unit. If the device becomes lost, families can text the word “RING” to the same phone number, and the unit will ring 12 times, making it easier to find.

Unlike other programs, which require families to notify authorities when their loved one goes missing, beginning a series of actions to locate them, “Safe Return” initiates the process and contacts family and, if necessary, 911 dispatchers without the family needing to take any action. In addition, the family can re-program the geo-fencing area, as needed; the device uses GPS satellite tracking technology and can be used anywhere within the United States. Throughout the process, representatives from Life Button 24 will work hand-in-hand with the families to customize the program to their individual needs.

Today’s launch of “Safe Return” followed months of research by a steering committee, which included representatives from the County’s departments of Emergency Response, Behavioral & Community Health (DBCH) and Community & Family Services (DCFS), the County’s Office for the Aging and several Dutchess County legislators. The committee reviewed several devices and services before determining “Safe Return” is the best option for Dutchess County families.

Dutchess County Legislator Kari Rieser said, “The safety of every resident is the top priority for my legislative colleagues and myself. Having reviewed ‘Safe Return,’ I’m confident County residents with special needs and their families can greatly benefit from this program. I laud County Executive Molinaro and my fellow steering committee members for their dedication to safeguarding our residents’ lives.”

Over the last decade, Dutchess County 911 dispatchers have received more than 2,900 reports of residents who are reported lost. For individuals who have difficulty communicating or cognitive issues, the risk of injury or even death is much greater. By quickly contacting 911 dispatchers in the event of an emergency, “Safe Return” will significantly improve response time in those complex situations.

Department of Emergency Response Commissioner Dana Smith said, “We have determined ‘Safe Return’ provides the best alternative for families whose loved one poses a wandering threat. This is the most comprehensive device there is; it provides quick communication with our dispatchers when an individual goes missing; and it can be used in the largest number of situations.”

The father of a daughter who lives on the autism spectrum, County Executive Molinaro established the “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” initiative in 2015 as a call for individuals, organizations and businesses to foster a welcoming and supportive environment for those with special needs.

More than 60 towns, villages and cities throughout New York State have since answered the challenge, adopting “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” resolutions. More information about Dutchess County’s efforts to “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” is available at

DCFS Commissioner Sabrina Jaar Marzouka said, “When an individual with special needs wanders, they often cannot analyze danger and they may head toward hazards, such as bodies of water or railroad tracks, thereby endangering their lives. ‘Safe Return’ can dramatically reduce the response time and potential injuries, be the difference between life and death for the individual, and put their family at ease.”

Dutchess County Legislator Margaret Kakish said, “By initiating ‘Safe Return,’ Dutchess County again demonstrates its concern for all residents’ safety. I thank County Executive Molinaro for his initiative in undertaking this project, and I’m sure it will benefit countless residents and families throughout our county.”

Richard Swanson, Assistant Director for Operations at Greystone Programs, Inc., said, “Wandering is a life-threatening concern for the families of many individuals with special needs. We thank Dutchess County Government and County Executive Molinaro for addressing this dangerous threat and for establishing a program that can save the lives of our neighbors of all abilities and can be a model for communities throughout our state.”