New Software Designed by Fairfield University Helps Locate Lost Individuals Who Have Autism, Dementia, Alzheimer’s

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The idea was sparked by a lost boy with Autism. The tool could help communities nationwide, and bring peace of mind to families concerned about loved ones who wander.

Fairfield University and the Fairfield, Connecticut Police Department collaborated on the 'SafeReturn Network.'

“[The SafeReturn Network] provides peace of mind to family and friends knowing that their local police have the tools necessary to locate their loved ones, should they wander from home,” said Fairfield, Connecticut Police Officer Michael Stahl.

A missing persons software tool has been created that enables residents of Fairfield, Connecticut to log information about loved ones with Autism, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other individuals who may be prone to wandering. Designed by Fairfield University’s School of Engineering, the ‘SafeReturn Network’ also contains the necessary information that police need in the case Amber or Silver Alerts need to be activated. It’s a tool that could help communities nationwide.

Town of Fairfield Police Officer Michael C. Stahl, a Fairfield University alumnus, came up with the idea after fellow officers found a lost autistic boy.

Officer Stahl said the Fairfield Police Department often comes in contact with individuals with special needs as well as those suffering from memory impairing conditions. “[The SafeReturn Network] provides peace of mind to family and friends knowing that their local police have the tools necessary to locate their loved ones, should they wander from home, and reunite them,” he noted.

In the event an officer encounters someone who is unable to communicate, the officer is able to open a gallery of photographs and filter those photos based on physical characteristics and subsequently match a photo with the person standing in front of them. The officer is then able to retrieve the individual’s profile and emergency contact information.

Officer Stahl, a 2010 Fairfield graduate who majored in Communication and minored in Management, well remembers the troubling day a couple of years ago that inspired him to develop the tool. It happened in the middle of the night, about 2 a.m., when an autistic teenager was found by Fairfield Police; barefoot, soaking wet, unable to communicate, and with no form of identification.

Police officers spent hours trying to identify the teen with no success. In order to ensure his safety, he was transported to a local hospital and Fairfield Police were faced with no other option than to await a panicked 911 call from the boy's family.

That frantic phone call came hours later when the teen’s mother woke up and found her son missing. Ultimately, mother and son were reunited.

The incident, and others like it, led Stahl to reach out to his alma mater and collaborate on what would later be named, the ‘SafeReturn Network.’

Wook-Sung Yoo, Ph.D., chair of software engineering at Fairfield, and two of his graduate students Michael Marrero and Ebenezer Rodriquez Vidal, built the computer program through which Fairfield residents may register photographs, contact information, and major details about family members they are worried about. Emergency personnel now have the ability to search that database using a variety of variables such as name, physical characteristics, and age.

“The system is deployed inside of the [Fairfield Police Department] Intranet server and all information submitted by an individual's caretaker is securely stored in a database made searchable and viewable in profile form either from an officer's desk at headquarters or in the officer's patrol car computer,” said Dr. Yoo.

For more information, visit http://fpdct.com/site/safereturn.html
or please contact Officer Stahl at the Fairfield Police Department at 203-254-4800 or email mstahl@fairfieldct.org

Image: Officer Michael Stahl is pictured at right.

Fairfield University is a Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University’s five schools. In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.

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Meg McCaffrey
Fairfield University
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