Each of the police agencies in Knox County has signed on for a program that asks family members for a current photo and contact information for loved ones who wander.

The Wanderers Database was created through a collaboration between Belfast Police Department and resident Linda Lee, who is the mother of an autistic child prone to wandering. The database is also aimed at elderly residents with dementia or Alzheimer's disease who may not be able to provide information such as a family member's name or current address.

Lee noted in a March 12 interview with The Republican Journal her son tends to run away from situations that make him feel intimidated, scared or upset. Upon moving to Belfast, one of the first stops she made was at Belfast Police Department to make officers aware and have a photo of her son — known by his nickname Tiger — available. Not only did Lee provide a vital photo, but also their home address and phone number as well as "triggers." In Tiger's case, an emotional trigger is being called by his legal name instead of Tiger. Lee also shared with police ways to calm her son like talking about art and drawing.

Often, time is of the essence when it comes to seeking a wandering person. The time it takes to locate a photo and organize a search varies but police being able to lay hands on current information and a photo speeds the process.

There are tracking devices available nationally but the infrastructure is not yet in place to allow proper function in Maine. This spurred Lee to come up with the alternative database.

All that's required to be included in the database is for someone to fill out the form with information such as name, address, phone number, nickname, physical traits, case worker name and contact information as well as known triggers and calmers and type of health issue. A photo is also attached to the form so anyone nonverbal can be easily identified.

All information is secure and private.

"We encourage people to come in and fill out the form," Camden Police Detective Curt Andrick said. " … That way, if they come up missing, we can go right to the database and have access to all of that information."

Andrick suggested updating the photo yearly for younger wanderers so police have the most accurate description and image possible.

Participating agencies include Knox County Sheriff's Office, Camden Police, Rockland Police, Rockport Police and Thomaston Police as well as Knox County Regional Communications Center, MidCoast Regional Child Development Services and Pen Bay Healthcare. Forms are available at each police station or online at helpautismnow.com; sign-up is voluntary and free.