A Life In Community

WanderSearch supports people that have a risk of going missing to live within their communities

The vision of the New Zealand Disability Strategy is: New Zealand is a non-disabling society – a place where disabled people have an equal opportunity to achieve their goals and aspirations, and all of New Zealand works together to make this happen.

The Safer Walking Framework supports the Strategy as it focuses on the subject of people with cognitive impairments (such as Autism, Alzheimers and Dementia) who have a risk of going missing, with the aim of enabling people to remain active and safe in community.

Considering the four parts of the framework and where WanderSearch fits in shows it intersects all the areas:

Reduction: There are many ways the risk of going missing can be reduced, seek advice from your local Alzheimer’s / Dementia group, health provider or disability support provider and behavioural specialists for young people with cogitative impairment.

The Safer Walking Profile is one thing that is easy to do and has the benefit of encouraging people to discuss the benefits of walking while thinking about how to lessen the risk of going missing. This potentially has an effect of reducing the incidents of people going missing. The Profile should be reviewed regularly to update the information and to continue the focus on being safe.

When a WanderSearch device is issued a set of information similar to the Safer Walking Profile is collected, this information is passed on to the police (where it is entered into the Police’s national database so they have the information they need to start a search in the event this the person going missing). Most important is the specific frequency number of the issued device. Like the Safer Walking Profile, it is likely that going through the issuing process is beneficial in that it starts the conversation about safer walking.

Readiness: For people who have a potential risk to go missing, family/whanau and support people need to be prepared. The first steps are seeking advice as above and completing the safer walking profile – remember to keep this updated and in an accessible safe place (for example with your passport). If the person uses a mobile phone, ensure key contact numbers are on it and consider one of the shared location apps. If a medical alarm is an option consider a model that also has GPS location capability and are either monitored by a family member or a monitoring center. For people who need to have a device that requires no charging, is worn all the time, is robust and functions in any part of New Zealand (does not use the cellular network), then a WanderSearch device could be a useful option, contact your nearest WanderSearch group.


Response: In the event that the person does go missing the family/whanau or carer calls Police on 111 and lets them know the person has a WanderSearch device – and its frequency number (this should be on their database). The sooner the Police are told that a person with a cognitive impairment is missing then the quicker they can be found and returned to safety. It is often quoted in North America that for people with dementia if found within the first 12 hours, 93% survive, which means that 7%, or one out of every 14 individuals with dementia, do not survive. Of those that have gone missing for 24 hours, only a third survive, and if missing for 72 hours, only one in five are found alive ( https://www.kindlycare.com/wandering-dementia-symptoms/ )

The Police will decide on the best method to search for the person, in many places the WanderSearch equipment is stored with the Police or with the local Land Search and Rescue Group. An analysis of incidents involving Police, May 2019 – Oct 2019 showed that the mean incident duration for a WanderSearch device wearer was around 1.8 hours with a maximum incident duration of 6 hours. For those people who did not have a device, the mean incident duration was 4.7 hours and maximum duration was 14 hours (information provided by NZSAR).

Missing person, who was wandering, found safe and well and being supported to find his way home. Photo NZ Police
Missing person found safe and well and on way their home. (Photo, NZ Police)

Recovery: Reflect on incidents and share learnings so the programme can continuously improve. For example, at the November 2019 Safer Walking / WanderSearch two-day workshop delivered by LandSAR (for all groups managing the WanderSearch programme in New Zealand), a half day was devoted to training issues and three presentations of past searches.

WanderSearch groups around the country issue and maintain the devices for people that have a risk of going missing. Being part of the WanderSearch programme supports people to live in their homes while giving family, whanau and friends peace of mind that should they not return home then there is a system in place to assist in locating them quickly.