Gene Saunders: A Lifelong Commitment to Rescue and Aid Operations

Gene Saunders - Commitment to Rescue and Aid Operations | Project Lifesaver International | Enterprise Wired

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Rescue and aid operations are fundamental in disaster management, especially for the senior community. As the population ages, the risk of wandering individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive disorders increases, highlighting the need for effective tracking solutions.

Gene Saunders, Founder and CEO of Project Lifesaver International is a ray of hope for families seeking to reunite with their loved ones safely. His expertise in this area has led to the development of Project Lifesaver, a renowned search and rescue organization operating globally.

Under Gene’s leadership, the organization has expanded to over 1,800 agencies in 50 states and 9 provinces in Canada, successfully conducting over 3,500 rescues. His dedication to the welfare of society underscores the importance of addressing critical social issues and positively impacting people’s lives.

There’s always one more thing you can do and never quit.

Gene Saunders

A Lifetime of Service and Leadership

Gene Saunders’ remarkable journey from graduating from Norview High School in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1963 to founding and leading Project Lifesaver is a testament to his commitment to public service. 

After serving in the Army and the National Guard, Gene joined the Chesapeake, Virginia Police Department in 1968, where he held various roles and command positions, including founding and commanding the SWAT team for 23 years. His leadership extended beyond law enforcement, as he also served in the Virginia State Guard and the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, commanding a search and rescue ranger unit.

While still an active duty police officer in 1999, Gene founded Project Lifesaver, initially volunteering for the organization before transitioning to full-time dedication after retiring in 2001. For over 25 years, he has tirelessly led Project Lifesaver, demonstrating the crucial role of effective leadership in overcoming challenges and obstacles.

Reflecting on his journey, Gene emphasizes the importance of perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity. Moreover, he underscores the value of “never giving up,” drawing from his own experiences and the wisdom of other successful leaders. His dedication to realizing his vision serves as an inspiring example for aspiring leaders.

The Founding and Growth of Project Lifesaver International

Approximately 28 years ago, during his tenure with the Chesapeake Virginia Police Department, Gene recognized the challenges in locating Alzheimer’s patients who had wandered off. Inspired by wildlife tracking techniques using radio frequency and radio direction finding, he collaborated with a manufacturer to develop a radio transmitter bracelet for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In 1999, after the initial successful rescues, other agencies expressed interest in adopting the program, prompting Gene to establish a comprehensive training program for equipping and training these agencies. Since then, Project Lifesaver has expanded to nearly 1800 members, in agencies across all 50 states.

Gene’s vision for providing a more efficient and cost-effective solution for locating and ensuring the safe return of individuals has led to the remarkable growth and impact of Project Lifesaver International. His pioneering efforts continue to save lives and bring peace of mind to countless families and communities.

Gene Saunders - Commitment to Rescue and Aid Operations | Project Lifesaver International | Enterprise Wired

Project Lifesaver Membership and Equipment

  • Who can join?

Project Lifesaver is a program coordinated by local public safety agencies like police departments, fire departments, and assisted living facilities. These agencies can join and offer the program to individuals in need.

  • Enrolling a loved one:

Contact the local Project Lifesaver agency directly for enrollment information and pricing. One can find an agency using their website’s search tool.

  • Equipment acquisition:

Project Lifesaver is a comprehensive program that includes training and support, not just equipment. The organization does not sell equipment separately due to the importance of proper training to ensure its safe and effective use.

  • Equipment selection:

The organization actively researches and tests equipment. Only devices approved through rigorous testing by its staff and member agencies become available to program members.

Rebuilding through Overcoming Challenges

Recovering from a significant loss presents a daunting task fraught with multifaceted difficulties. These encompass a spectrum of challenges, ranging from financial constraints to the arduous process of workforce development. Gene Saunders journey to establish a robust system safeguarding public well-being was no exception, encountering numerous hurdles.

  • Initial impediments: “The initial challenges stemmed from for-profit enterprises,” Gene explains, “who perceived a lucrative opportunity and made repeated attempts to either acquire or force the closure of our operations.”
  • Workforce Acquisition and Retention: Another obstacle lies in securing and retaining a competent and reliable workforce. The team was forced to engage in legal recourse to counter these hostile takeover attempts while ensuring the uninterrupted delivery of services to its members.

Despite facing adversity on numerous fronts, the organization is committed to continuously appraising its equipment and service offerings. This dedication extends to modernizing training programs and exploring advancements in relevant technological fields.

An Entrepreneur with a Humanitarian Mission

Gene Saunders embodies the true spirit of social entrepreneurship, leveraging his expertise to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. His commitment to recovery operations for at-risk individuals has garnered international recognition, with appearances on various media platforms showcasing his expertise in this critical field.

However, it was not possible without a concrete leadership philosophy.

One of the things I’ve always believed in is finding capable people, showing them what you want, teaching and training them, and then turning them loose.

Gene Saunders

He empowers his team by granting them the authority and responsibility to carry out their tasks effectively. He believes in providing independence and freedom to feel valued and contribute meaningfully to the organization. By prioritizing their satisfaction and fulfillment, Gene aims to cultivate a cohesive and purpose-driven team where each member feels a sense of ownership and belonging. His leadership philosophy underscores the importance of enabling individuals to recognize their integral role in the organization’s success, promoting a culture of collaboration and excellence.

Key Achievements:

Gene Saunders - Commitment to Rescue and Aid Operations | Project Lifesaver International | Enterprise Wired
  • National – Lifesaver Mission Award; Exceptional Service Award
  • Masonic – “Building Communities Award” (2)
  • 2005- Care Track – Leadership, Vision Award
  • Who’s Who – 1989 American Law Enforcement; 1991 Who’s Who in Law Enforcement
  • 2004 – Strathmores – America Leaders; 2005 _ABI Directory of Experts, 2005 ABI Man of the Year
  • WAVY TV “Shining Star Award”
  • ABI American Medal of Honor
  • ABI Hall of Fame 2006
  • Bank of America Local Hero Award 2009
  • WEGO Health Activist Hero 2014 Finalist
  • Medal of Honor Foundation 2015 National “Citizen Service Before Self Finalist”

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