Aimed at helping emergency personnel locate community members prone to wandering from their homes, Michael Stahl ‘10 developed computer database SafeReturn.
On March 21, 2012, Stahl recalled, a Fairfield Police officer found an autistic male teenager running in the middle of the road a little after 2 a.m.
“It was immediately recognized that the male was not able to communicate; he could not speak and could not write,” Stahl stated. “Fairfield Police officers then spent several hours attempting to identify the male, but with no success.”
“In order to ensure the male’s safety, he was transported to a local hospital and police were faced with no other option than to await the frantic early morning 911 call when the male’s mother woke up and found her son missing,” Stahl stated.
According to a Fairfield Police press release, Stahl suggested the idea to Director of the Career Planning Center Cathleen Borgman, who she then referred Stahl to Dr. Wook-Sung Yoo, professor of software engineering at Fairfield.
Yoo became involved with the project on the basis that it “would be an excellent ‘service learning’ project in the software engineering department’s capstone project course.”
He assigned Fairfield alumni Ebenezer Rodriguez Vidal and Michael Marrero the task of creating SafeReturn as their capstone project for graduate school, which they completed in May 2013.
“Fairfield Police Department lacked a system to keep the records of these individuals, forcing officers into passive roles during times of emergency,” Yoo said. “By recording basic information in advance, officers can proactively respond to and meet the needs of these individuals in cases where their caretakers are not available.”
With SafeReturn, officers have the ability to use several variables, such as name, physical characteristics and age in order to track “wanderers.”
According to Stahl, the database also contains photographs of each individual registered within the SafeReturn system.
If an officer encountered someone “unable to communicate,” the officer would be able to open the gallery of photographs and identify the wanderer based on physical characteristics, he stated.
Through SafeReturn, the officer can access the individual’s profile and emergency contact information using the computer terminal in the officer’s patrol vehicle, Stahl stated. “When someone within the system is reported missing, an officer is able to put an alert on that person’s profile, which other officers will see immediately after logging into the system.”
While SafeReturn “is still in its infancy,” it “is already proving to be a useful program,” he added.
Since the launch of SafeReturn in January 2014, the database has been utilized numerous times, and the number of people registered within the system has continued to grow.
SafeReturn has not only gained popularity within the Fairfield community, but also in neighboring areas. According to Stahl, a local police department and several organizations have expressed interest in implementing a program similar to SafeReturn.
“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,” Stahl stated.