PLBs have a new name - Yuppie 911

8:17 a.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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We have discussed PLBs before - and will again, I'm sure - but now the discussion is expanding to the public arena. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33470581/ns/us_news-life/

Several good comments in that short piece. No conclusions, but I offer mine once again - "If you go into the backcountry you do so by choice. You have no right to then drag others, at their peril, into your playtime. If you got there by yourself, get out by yourself...or not. Life on this plane is terminal. A good day is a day you can die with dignity."

1:12 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks for the link. That is just the sort of problem I foresee, and tried to describe on our last go-round on the topic. People are going to use these things to go places they are not prepared to go, figuring that they can get rescued if need be.

If knowledgeable people operating safely within the range of their own skills use them as a last resort, after all self-rescue efforts have failed, OK. But that isn't going to happen, because the number of stupid people always exceeds expectations.

And here's a link to that:

http://www.cantrip.org/stupidity.html

8:33 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks for posting this link. I put it on the blog (with credit) since it's such an interesting topic:

http://www.trailspace.com/blog/2009/10/26/plbs-yuppie-911.html

8:58 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Electronic gizmos, Bear spray, electric bear fences, and all the "safety" related paraphernalia are all simply a way in which those who have not/will not LEARN serious wilderness skills and how to judge what you CAN do from what you MIGHT do, compensate for their lack of skills.

I have no GPS, sat phone, PLB, LED beacons, iPod, or, especially bear related technology. I never have used most of this stuff and am not going to start now. A GOOD compass, watch and knowing what I am doing around bears plus a cautious approach to cross-country travel in remote wilderness has worked for me for 45+ years of pretty intense multiday backpacking and I also seldom carry a gun.

9:15 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Here's my take - like it or not (I'm not even sure.)

By having the latest safety "stuff" many people who would not normally go out and enjoy the woods, forests, trails, camp grounds, or whatever, now can feel safe doing so. (Although it is only a perceived safety)

Is this a bad thing? Polls show that the number of people, especially children, who recreate out-of-doors, is at an all time low. If the numbers continue to drop, so may the funding.

As far as I'm concerned, if Dad buying a PLB, device gets a family outside, away from the confines of 4 walls, the TV, video game, computer, etc., so be it. At least they're outside.

As an educator and outdoors-person - I'll teach anyone who wishes to listen what I know and will help anyone learn to enjoy the outdoors - even if they need a PLB to do it.

As the saying goes...

9:19 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Dewey,

Could it be possible that despite the use of all proper wilderness skills a potentially deadly encounter with a bear would still be possible. Saying bear spray is only used as a crutch for people who refuse to learn wilderness skills is like saying mouth to mouth is only used as a crutch for swimmers who have no business swimming in the ocean, or life preservers as a crutch for boaters who have no business sailing . Isn't it possible that something could still befall even the best trained person in a given scenario? You should always learn proper survival skills as they mitigate potential dangers, like bears. Nothing, however, is fool proof. Bears will attack even the most experienced. Bear spray can save your life, and it has saved others. Its crazy to go in grizzly country without it, or a gun, which you apparently think is ok occasion.

9:31 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, I guess that I am ...crazy..., but, after a lifetime spent in the outdoors and with many situations involving bears, what I posted is what I think.

NO repeat NO item of gear will save you from a lack of skills which is what is USUALLY the REAL cause of most outdoor injuries/fatalities. It is more than simply technical training that I am attempting to get across here; it is the intuitive knowledge of how to behave in various circumstances that will save your life, not a canister of spray or a gun which most should not bother with, anyway.

The comparison between CPR use and a life preserver and bear spray is not a valid one, IME, but, carry-go-do what you wish, it's not my desire to interfere with anyone's pleasures.

9:44 p.m. on October 26, 2009 (EDT)
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Now here's some serious self-sufficiency (I just read this on the backcountry.com blog):

Hugh Glass was Tougher Than You’ll Ever (need to) Be
In 1823 Glass was on a fur trapping expedition when he surprised a mother Grizzly and her two cubs. The bear attacked, and Glass fought back with his knife. He woke up to find that his companions had covered him with a shroud, taken his gear, and left him as dead.

Glass then set his own broken leg, and thinking it too unsafe to follow the Grand River due to Native Americans in the area, he crawled overland for 6-weeks to the Cheyenne River. On the way he stopped to let maggots eat the dead flesh off his leg to prevent gangrene. Rough.

At the Cheyenne River he fashioned a crude craft and floated downriver to Fort Kiowa, 200 miles from where he’d been left.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Glass

10:29 p.m. on October 27, 2009 (EDT)
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I believe all 50 states have criminal penalties for abusing the 911 emergency phone system, they vary by state.

I believe this should apply to users of PLB's, misuse of most anything creates problems, but with rescue personnel it can be life threatening for them under many circumstances. Fines and time in jail will not reduce these risks for S&R if false alarms occur, but may well reduce the problem.

Maybe there should be laws passed & a notice of penalties for misuse in the product literature, and a sticker also on the PLB itself?

Do any states already have these laws?

Also the article did not seem to list how many people have been rescued in real life and death emergencies.

I do not yet have a PLB, I probably will get one this year, I like the idea of being able to send "I'm okay" messages to family with the tracking feature.

I would also like to offer up a thought for comment. How about if people entering high risk areas had to first prove they had taken an instructional course and had a basic level of skill. Do any areas already do this?

I know some areas only allow visitors who are accompanied by a guide.

Thoughts / info?

11:40 a.m. on October 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Family bought me one (SPOTS) for a present. They didn't realize it needed a recurring connection contract of the same price as the equipment.

It has a 'Hi Mom' and a 'Uh OH' button.

Lets me go out and play without a lot of hassle from wife and family, and they enjoy seeing just how slow I really am by following my progress on google maps. But that entertainment has a long payback schedule to amortize the cost and connect maintenance.

Helps to schedule pickups at remote trailheads, too.

I fully expect to pay for a RorR (rescue or recovery). It would be worth every penny if needed. To keep the charges down, I have THE button covered by tape so as not to have unplanned and unwanted visitors making all kinds of noise stomping around looking and yelling my name.

I'd rather not carry it because of the weight, and it removes a little of the fine patina of being out there away from 'most' of it.

But it keeps peace at home.

I also carry a personal beacon and drag a red line when playing in the snow - if needed. No need to be just stupid when I don't have to be. I get plenty of practice doing that at home anyway.

Neither of the devices encourage me to do anything more unreasonable than I have in the past. I usually forget that I have them with me.

2:30 p.m. on October 28, 2009 (EDT)
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I make yellow lines in the snow. Is that the same thing?

6:57 p.m. on October 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Now here's some serious self-sufficiency (I just read this on the backcountry.com blog):

Hugh Glass was Tougher Than You’ll Ever (need to) Be
In 1823 Glass was on a fur trapping expedition when he surprised a mother Grizzly and her two cubs. The bear attacked, and Glass fought back with his knife. He woke up to find that his companions had covered him with a shroud, taken his gear, and left him as dead.

Glass then set his own broken leg, and thinking it too unsafe to follow the Grand River due to Native Americans in the area, he crawled overland for 6-weeks to the Cheyenne River. On the way he stopped to let maggots eat the dead flesh off his leg to prevent gangrene. Rough.

At the Cheyenne River he fashioned a crude craft and floated downriver to Fort Kiowa, 200 miles from where he’d been left.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Glass

I just got around to reading this story, I read the story from several different sources. It is worth reading if anyone has not read it yet!

Makes the discussions we have on who makes the best trekking poles, socks, stove, etc. seem kinda petty.

8:41 p.m. on October 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Aron Ralston is a tough gent, too. Remember when he cut off his own arm to get free of a tight situation? Unfortunately, he got caught up in the media frenzy afterward. But it still takes a lot of grit to get out of a situation like that.

We can do amazing things when we have no other temporal help but ourselves. Another reason to not use PLBs, IMO. I've had times when I was sure I was going to freeze to death, for example; yet I somehow found a way to make it another mile, or improvise a shelter. (I just did a quick count and I still have all my limbs.) Any of us are capable of far more than we know.

8:49 p.m. on October 28, 2009 (EDT)
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Interestingly, Aron Ralston became a spokesperson for ACR Electronics and their PLB's back in 2006.

I'm not sure if he's a spokesperson or not anymore. I don't see him mentioned on the ACR site.

9:35 p.m. on October 28, 2009 (EDT)
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IIRC, Ralston wouldn't have been able to use a PLB in the crevice, even if it was in reach.

11:41 a.m. on October 29, 2009 (EDT)
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This topic is very interesting since i'm in the middle of planning that Jasper to Lake Louise ski traverse.

I agree that experienced hikers and outdoor people are not very likely to ever use a Spot or PLB. After a while in the bush you develop a totally different attitude than a beginner towards a life-threatening situation, you guys know what i'm talking about. Not panicking has a lot to do with it.

Dewey is also right when he mentions relying on skills more than equipment. That's just common sense.

So let's say that most people carying PLBs are responsible and experienced. They have a map, compass, first-aid kit, shelter, survival skills, emergency plan and someone at home who knows where they're going. In this case i beleive you would use your PLB only if there's no other way to save your life. This experience goes a long way in making the work of SAR personel safer too, supposing you have basic SAR training too.

So would you mind being charged for the full cost of the rescue? Of course not, you'll still be alive! Not so if you were negligent in the use of these services. It might also motivate the lazier packers to spend a bit more time on planning if they knew that pressing the Help button came with a 20K$ bill.

No matter how well you plan and your experience, there's always some potential dangers that cannot be eliminated. In the ski trip we're planning the major ones are crevasses, rock fall, avalanches and cliffs. The PLB is part of our safety net helping to make this trip a bit safer, mostly because we have the skills to make the best use of it.

It's also the only reason my wife will let me go on this trip, and this is more important than everythin else!! :p

5:15 p.m. on October 29, 2009 (EDT)
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The topic of billing hikers for rescue is discussed in this AP article:

NH, seeking $25k from Eagle Scout, is the lone state to regularly fine hikers for rescues

Stranded with a sprained ankle on a snow-covered mountain, Eagle Scout Scott Mason put his survival skills to work by sleeping in the crevice of a boulder and jump-starting evergreen fires with hand sanitizer gel.

He put plastic bags inside his boots to keep his feet dry as he sloshed through mountain runoff hidden beneath waist-deep snow. After three cold days last April, rescue crews spotted him hiking toward the summit of Mount Washington, the Northeast's highest mountain.

New Hampshire officials praised his resourcefulness. So grateful was he for his rescuers that Mason, 17, sent $1,000 to the state.

Sometime later, New Hampshire sent him a bill: $25,734.65 for the cost of rescuing him.

New Hampshire is one of eight states with laws allowing billing for rescue costs, but only New Hampshire has made frequent attempts to do so — even strengthening its law last year to allow the suspension of hiking, fishing and driver's licenses of those who don't pay, according to an Associated Press review.

6:17 p.m. on October 29, 2009 (EDT)
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Well, I guess I won't go "hiking" in NH anymore. "Negligent", based on "what a reasonable person would do" is so vague that they could readily bill anyone. "No reasonable person would go hiking in the snow." "No reasonable person would go backpacking/camping in winter." "No reasonable person would hike off-trail" (that apparently was cited in Mason's case) "No reasonable person would hike uphill with an injury instead of downhill" (again, cited in Mason's case - but what if that is the shortest direction to safety, namely the weather station on the summit, which is manned year around, and is also the upper station for the cog railway?). They also mentioned skiing out of bounds, which would seem to include anyone backcountry skiing and all the hordes of skiers who go to Tuckerman's. I suspect they might include rescues for any of the rock climbing areas and ice climbing areas - these do not have official developed and maintained access trails.

Hmmm, I guess if Mason had made it to the summit and taken the cog railway down (yeah, I know, it doesn't run in winter), self-rescuing, he would not have been billed. Or, what if someone was reported missing, but was merely delayed and showed up back home a couple days late? No rescue needed, but someone called out the SAR team. Would that person be billed, or the person who reported them "missing"? Or cited for a "false report"?

7:00 p.m. on October 29, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill is asking some very good questions here, and it made me think: maybe it's time i change the way i go in the backcountry. For example, we started planning the ski traverse as a fun adventure between friends. Then i thought, geeze, if something bad happens out there i'm the official leader of this expedition and will most likely get sewed to death! So you can be sure the emergency plan will be 10 pages long with everything done by the book, waivers signed, regular safety breifings, health questionaires filled, etc...The result? A very well-planned, much safer trip!

IMO, the same should be done on a smaller scale for all our outings, specially when we go by ourselves. In the case of the Scout, did he have a map and compass? Did he leave a copy of his route to a trusted person? Did he discussed in advance what was going to happen if he got delayed and when to call SAR? Did he have sufficient gear for an unplanned night out? Did he have a way of communicating with people?

I know it might seem excessive and a lot of work, but you can get sewed for anything these days, I don't know why this should be different. Maybe it will motivate more people to seek professional instruction or, like in my case, kick you in but and make you work harder towards a safer backcountry experience for everyone.

Just my 2 cents...

8:58 p.m. on October 29, 2009 (EDT)
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I'm pretty sure we already discussed that NH billing months ago. However, I heartily approve of the NH approach. They changed the law from "reckless" to "negligent", but they actually have billed very few people for costs and they have always had the right to take away driver's licenses, business licenses, etc. They have reciprocal arrangements with other states for that as well.

The "Scout" incident has been touted as gross injustice; however, the other side of the issue is seldom heard. That lad wanted to show how self-reliant he was and that arrogance cost a lot of searchers' time and money. He heard the searchers below him, knew that they were there and instead headed uphill away from them so that he could claim to have done the summit (despite what he said was a sprained ankle).

If I call an ambulance, I know I am going to pay for it. Typically, that doesn't mean other people risk their lives or health on my behalf. You call for SAR - which does involve risk for others - you should pay for it. Simple, IMO. Anyone who would object to paying the cost - only the cost - of a rescue is pretty ungrateful, don't you think?

We've been over this many times, IIRC. NH has spent taxpayer's money sending copters through snow storms only to find a hiker sitting warming his feet by a stove, uninjured, but too lazy to retrace his steps downhill. The PLB incident that started this thread is actually typical of many of the calls SAR responds to. Everyone seemed to agreed that the idjuts in the Grand Canyon should have been charged for misusing 911 services. Well, shouldn't anyone who can self-rescue be charged for any rescue called in by them or on their behalf? If not, why not?

And then, by extension, just as with an ambulance, all who use SAR should pay a fair part of the cost of their rescue, negligent or not.

2:01 p.m. on October 30, 2009 (EDT)
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A large part of the difficulty is the definitions of "reasonable", "negligent", and "reckless". What constitutes each of these is very much dependent on the individuals involved - experience, condition, knowledge, equipment, and a number of other factors. To take one example, if someone decides to go up Denali, there is a requirement that everyone in the party receive a briefing from the National Park Service plus, if you are ascending above 11,000 ft, pay a "mountaineering fee". This fee is explicitly not a rescue insurance fee, but is to cover the expenses of having ranger patrols on the mountain and to maintain the latrine facilities. Rescues are carried out primarily by volunteers on the mountain and by the Alaska Air National Guard, which considers such rescues as "training exercises." If the briefer considers, from his/her interview, that you and your party are lack experience or are inadequately prepared in terms of gear, supplies, physical condition, etc, s/he will remind you that rescue is not guaranteed and will strongly advise you to not go. They generally do not forbid you to go, but the air taxi operators may refuse to carry you to the mountain ("We may refuse service to any person"). It is left to your own discretion whether to take the advise offered. If you go anyway and return without incident, fine. But if you need rescue, depending on the circumstances, you may be fined and/or have to pay rescue costs, and you may be forbidden to set foot on the mountain, with various legal penalties. In most cases, there is no charge levied for the rescue costs.

Now, this is a different situation from most National Parks, National Forests, Designated Wilderness Areas, and other backcountry areas, where the only required permits may be a Fire Permit and/or a Wilderness Permit. Some areas (in California for example, Inyo NF, Yosemite, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and some other areas have limits on the number of entries per day) may have other permits. In those areas, the only requirement for the permit is to apply and in some cases pay a permit fee. No briefing or gear check is required. If a permit is required, you may be fined or arrested, the violation being lack of a permit, no check on your preparation or qualifications (often the patrolling ranger has permit forms and just issues a permit on the spot). Other areas have no permits, and may or may not have signs warning of dangers (in our local hills in the SFBay Area, there are signs in most of the parks about the presence of mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and coyotes). Basically, it is left up to your personal discretion.

How can the authorities judge the preparedness, experience, and judgment of someone, especially without gatekeepers posted at every possible entrance? Should you have to pass a test and get certified (which brings up the question of how do you get the experience and knowledge without actually going out there if you have to have the certification before being allowed out there)? Back in the 1950s and 1960s, every party climbing in Yosemite Valley was required to have at least one Qualified Leader in the group (I was on the QL list from 1964 until it was discontinued in the 1970s). The QL list was eventually discontinued because it was unenforceable.

And even if you require some sort of certification, how do you assure that someone is not going to do something really dumb or make what might be a trivial mistake or minor misjudgment in just the wrong place and time? As the recent book "Nudge" points out, it doesn't take much for even the most experienced and brightest to make blunders within their own field of expertise and experience that produce huge consequences (the most recent example here in the SFBay Area is the faulty repair of the Bay Bridge which resulted in several totaled vehicles, but luckily no serious injuries or deaths - no determination of what mistake was made, only that the repair failed catastrophically in just 2 months). Is that recklessness, negligence, ignorance, or just plain "having the blinders on"?

Several comments have been made about self-rescue, turning back, and so on. The point at which you turn back, bailing by an alternate route, sit tight, or continue on is very much a matter of judgment, which should be based on experience, preparedness, and gear. Several people have posted on Trailspace about point to point trips (Jasper to Banff by ski, transSierra by ski, thru-hikes, etc). Over the years, I have done all these - turning back, bailing by an alternate route, sitting it out, continuing. I have accumulated about 3 weeks of sitting in tents in storm at 17,000 ft on Denali and 2 weeks at 14,000 ft. I have turned back early in a climb or hike, and in a few cases, within a couple hundred feet of the goal of the outing. I have helped evacuate injured and sick, cutting my own trip short, in one case bailing out of the Sierra by a route that left me 40 miles from my car (the USFS rangers gave us a ride). Should the sick person have paid us for cutting our trip short? I would say no. Should the rangers who met us part way out and then drove us 40 miles back to our car have charged the victim? Again, I say no, because we already paid for them to be there with our taxes and other fees (do you think the police should charge for the 911 call to investigate a break-in at your house, when that's what your taxes are going for?).

By the way, I do carry rescue insurance. And I do let Barb know when and where I am headed for my several times a week hikes, bike rides, and rock climbing. Plus she gets the messages from my SPOT that show where I entered the trail, ok when I get to the top of the hill, and ok when I get back to the car in the parking lot. But I guess I am negligent in not providing a track during the drive on the insane freeways around here. If you look at the statistics, you will find that driving to and especially from hiking, skiing, and climbing is more dangerous than the activities themselves. Over the years, only one frequent climbing partner has been killed in a climbing accident, while 3 have died in car accidents on the return from climbing trips.

2:58 p.m. on October 30, 2009 (EDT)
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On the subject of qualifying people for outings, Baxter State Park here in Maine does so for winter use:

http://www.baxterstateparkauthority.com/camping/win_procedures.html

I believe it used to be a minimum group of 4 for application, certain experience, etc... But, now, looking at the revised rules there is no longer a minimum, which makes me very happy, since I'd like to go up with my hiking partner/spouse and not have to round up two other people just to do so.

I'm going to have to read these new rules. There are still permits, but they sound slightly loosened up. Also, winter day trips below treeline don't require permissions now.

3:53 p.m. on October 30, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill,

Interesting historical points. It is different now with much heavier usage and the lack of personal responsibility endemic to modern society. At one time if a person made a mistake and took a wrong trail, he might be lost for days and eventually searchers sent out for him. When found he would say something to the effect "I guess I lost my way, stupid of me, thanks for saving my butt." Now the "victim" would expect helicopter rescue five minutes after their cellphone call and threaten to sue for bad trail signage. (True, you know.)

So things change. If I require an ambulance - I again use that analogy since it is closest to the situation - volunteer EMTs will come with the local ambulance. I will be charged $500+ for a drive on good roads twenty miles to a decent hospital. These are volunteers and it is a not-for-profit ambulance service for six towns. I will pay the money without question. Why, Bill, do you question someone being charged for the cost of searching and rescuing someone? The money has to come from somewhere, why not the users of the service?

BTW - Mt. Washington has tremendous signage and other warnings as one of the deadliest mountains in the US. see http://www.hikesafe.com/

10:20 p.m. on October 30, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill mentions something very interesting about rescue insurance. I guess it's true insurance is available for most trips and is probably a good idea. But do you know if they would investigate following a claim of tens of thousands of dollar or just pay no questions asked? Considering the purpose of an insurance company is to make money, maybe they could fall back on you for money, but ii have no experience in the mather.

Having free rescue in the National Parks makes a lot of sense IMO. The mission of Parks Canada is to manage, preserve and make accessible the wilderness to all canadians. With the fees they charge they can easily afford their SAR team! Doesn't mean the system should be abused but still, most of the visitors in the big Parks are totally inept at almost everything.

For other places, enter at your own risk!

3:43 p.m. on October 31, 2009 (EDT)
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I ran into Rick Strasser at Skidazzle, the big LA preseason ski and snowboard trade show. Rick has been doing K9 SAR for years in Kern County for various agencies and now does strictly federal contract work. He has been working up in Yellowstone. Rick brings his dog, Shasta, every year to the show and walks around talking to people about SAR.

I asked him about the whole PLB/SPOT issue. He told me there are discussions going on about charging for rescues since there are more and more of these alerts and false alarms, especially from SPOTS which apparently can be set off fairly easily inadvertently. He also said what they are seeing now are calls to SAR from worried family and friends who don't get an "OK" message when they expect it, regardless of whether the "911" button has been pushed.

One example he gave me of a search they are doing is for a 73 year old Alzheimer who was trying to go from Whitney Portal to the summit and back in one day. I've never done that hike, but a friend who has, told me it is no easy hike. Why anyone would think this was a good idea is a mystery to me. They have no idea where this person disappeared.

1:06 a.m. on November 1, 2009 (EST)
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Very interesting insight Tom,

I have a couple guys I get to talk to from time to time, it's good to have an insiders perspective.

Why don't the SPOT's have a simple 4 digit code that locks the function buttons? Or some such measure? Heck you could write the code right on the devise with a sharpie so you couldn't forget it.

8:11 a.m. on November 1, 2009 (EST)
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Why don't the SPOT's have a simple 4 digit code that locks the function buttons? Or some such measure? Heck you could write the code right on the devise with a sharpie so you couldn't forget it.

The new version of SPOT is expected in stores anytime this fall.

Among other new features, it is supposed to have more custom messaging modes and replaceable covers to prevent inadvertent emergency message transmission. We haven't gotten our hands on a promised sample for testing yet.

http://www.trailspace.com/blog/2009/07/21/spot-debuts-new-version.html

11:44 a.m. on November 1, 2009 (EST)
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Tom,

A question in the case of the Alzheimer is how he happened to set off on his hike. Was he solo? How did he get to Whitney Portal to start - family, hitching, or? I will note that a lot of recent research on Alzheimers and some other forms and levels of dementia shows that getting into the outdoors and hiking (not solo) helps mitigate and lessen the effects and slow the deterioration. We have a neighbor who has developed dementia in the last couple of years. The doctors have recommended walks as part of his therapy, so his daughter and son take him on daily walks around the neighborhood and in parks.

trout,

The original SPOT was set up to be very simple to operate, as is the case with most PLBs. There are 4 buttons - power, "OK", "Help", and "911". There is no provision for entering lock/unlock codes. This is inherited from aircraft and boating ELTs, EPIRBs, and earlier PLBs, as well as avalanche beacons, so they would trigger without intervention of the user - if your plane crashes or your boat sinks, you don't have time to enter some unlock code. The new SPOT 2 allows selecting several OK and Help messages (preprogrammed before you go out), with the "911" ("emergency - rescue me") message requiring some extra "handshaking" before it is triggered. One of the things I noted to SPOT in my testing was that the "911" message and other buttons were a bit too easy to trigger accidentally.

12:53 p.m. on November 1, 2009 (EST)
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Bill, He was solo. Unfortunately, his body was found yesterday afternoon. This link is to the Whitney Portal Store's message board. The posts will give everyone a "real time" look at what happened from the perspective of people who were hiking the trail and met up with him as he was hiking.

http://www.whitneyportalstore.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=69834&Board=1&page=1&fpart=all&gonew=1#UNREAD

This message board is interesting. I have seen it used before to gather information about missing hikers. I wonder if other places have anything similar. Many of the posters seem to be locals who know the area really well, as opposed to tourists there for the first time.

His family put up a blog during the search, which is another interesting use of the web when these incidents happen.

http://searchforwade.blogspot.com/

Rick Strasser told me the hiker had Alzheimer's, but there is no mention of it anywhere else. He may have been misinformed. According to the reports, the man was 73, but an experienced hiker. The weather was very cold, the trail was icy in spots (he was wearing Microspikes) and my guess, and this is just a guess is that he underestimated the effort of the hike, was late coming down and the combination of darkness and cold got to him. Again, just a supposition based on the reports of the various posters regarding the conditions.

1:21 p.m. on November 1, 2009 (EST)
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OMW,

You misread and misinterpreted some of my comments. I will try to clarify.

Typically, if your local fire department, police, and ambulance are called out, there is no charge (although a number of emergency rooms at hospitals require proof of insurance or ability to pay before treatment - a source of vigorous debate here in the SFBay Area). This also is the case with the county sheriff and Highway Patrol on the county and state level, as well as the park rangers within city, county, state, and national parks. There are some locales (a few states other than California), though, where the fire department does charge for their services in putting out fires or EMT services. I pay for those emergency services via my taxes at the city, county, state, and national levels (plus special districts). Once taxes and fees are in place, there is a very low probability that they will ever go away, and there is no way to get excused from the taxes and fees by signing a waiver of rescue or other emergency services. My point about not expecting to pay was that I have already paid for those services to be standing by, ready to protect and save me and my property. These are not pay-as-you-go, ad hoc services. It would be a bit hard to recruit a policeman on the spot as someone is breaking into my house or to gather my neighbors and find fire hoses when my house is on fire. So the appropriate services are recruited, equipped, and trained ahead of time, hoping I never have to use them. As it happens, I have had very little use for such services, mostly because I have planned and taken steps to reduce the likelihood of ever needing them (one exception being the snowboarder who ran into me in the liftline, dislocating my elbow - I was glad the Ski Patrol was there to render first aid and transport me down the hill, as well as my wife being there to convey me to the hospital).

If I were not required to pay the taxes and fees for the services, and I had the option to pay for them as needed, I would likely choose that option (actually, I do exercise that option right now in some sense - I have rescue and other insurance for emergencies that I pay for).

Note that the statements of the New Hampshire authorities were to the effect that the billing for rescues is intended to alert people to the costs of rescue services and the potential dangers, not to cover the costs of SAR (most of which is carried out by unpaid volunteers who get no reimbursement - recall that years ago, I was a SAR volunteer). The sheriff and the sheriff's helicopter are paid for by taxes and fees, and most SAR efforts involve no bill being presented in NH.

Now, do not misunderstand or misinterpret. I am most definitely NOT advocating or excusing people going out unprepared or ill-equipped. I do believe that it is up to the individual to self-evaluate his/her own abilities, experience, preparedness (gear, supplies, conditioning), and the conditions. This includes seeking out as many sources of information as possible, including the local authorities. On the other hand, I have had many "local authorities" tell me that conditions were too dangerous, when they were quite benign (further discussion in some of those cases managed to get the "authority" to realize that I was not an inexperienced city-dweller, setting out in jeans, T-shirt, and sandals - in one case, the person at the desk called her supervisor, who tried to sign me up, stating that I had more experience and was better equipped - after looking at my gear - than his entire office). Many ranger offices give advice based on their assumption that the person inquiring has no or minimal experience. I do not fault them for this, since in fact, for the vast majority of people, this is true (I don't need to remind Trailspace readers of a certain disbarred member who advocated braving hurricanes in a tent).

There are special cases. If a house burns because someone set the fire (arson) or as a result of illegal activities (a number of recent fires in the SFBay Area started because of electric systems overloaded by grow-lights used by "indoor farmers"), the miscreants should spend time in jail and should pay for the costs, especially if the fire burns neighboring houses. When the police catch the burglar or mugger, again the miscreant should spend time in jail. (Here in Calif, with the budget crisis continuing, a "solution" being seriously considered is to open the jail doors and let the prisoners out on the streets, or not send the criminals to jail in the first place). I do not recall whether Waterman's family had to pay for the retrieval of his body when he committed suicide by freezing to death in the Presidentials, but I believe that if you are going to do something like that, you should make arrangements for funding to pay for the retrieval.

Stuff happens. You can't always predict the weather, so that sometimes storms are worse than expected. Even a very experienced, well-equipped person can get in over their heads. A prime case is the ranger who was the subject of the book "The Last Summer" (turns out, I apparently met him several times in the Sierra, since he patrolled one of my favorite areas in Sequoia-Kings Canyon, though it was no more than encountering him in the backcountry, as well as his father, who used to run part of the ranger-naturalist program in Yosemite Valley). In some sense, if you interpret literally the NH criteria, he was doing several things that a "reasonable" person would not do (hiking well off trail solo, many miles from anyone else, and IIRC, left his radio at his base camp).

Speaking of radios, I believe that all gear, whether old-school or latest-greatest electronic widgetry, can and should be used responsibly. It is true that a lot of gear and practices are misused. At one point in history, it was reasonable to use an ax and to build wood fires for cooking and warmth, leaving the stone fire ring when you were through. But now, with the large number of people using the backcountry and the damage caused by misuse of axes, I consider it unreasonable to use an ax, and in most circumstances to build a wood fire (though I like a campfire as much as the next person, and we have a "wood burning appliance", aka fireplace, in our newly rebuilt house).

So I consider a PLB, ham radio, or cell phone to be reasonable devices to carry with you in the backcountry, IF they are used responsibly. It is like any other piece of gear. One thing that is missing from the notices and signs, as well as the instructions with the electronic devices, is that emergency response in the wilderness will usually require several hours before help can arrive (even in many of our State, County, and City parks around here). It can take several days. These devices are no substitute for self-responsibility, meaning experience, judgment, training, and proper gear.

3:11 p.m. on November 1, 2009 (EST)
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In Australia there have been moves to make these devices compulsory,the debtae on this usually occurs after some one has been lost/died.Near some of our more popular hiking areas for example the Blue Moutains near Sydney,PLB's can be hired from the local police station and the National Parks Service.

However a lot of those who get in to diificulty went off into the wild unprepared thinking that as they were near a town that ther walk would be reasonably benign they were therefore not prepared.It is common to hear that these folk were not carrying enough water,maps compasses,shelter or food and when realising that they are lost make the classic mistake of continuing to move -making them harder to find. Public outcry is often underscored as many of the SAR people are volunteers who give up time,pay etc to find these individuals.

Like a lot of you I think peole shouln't be out there without the appropriate gear but more importantly the knowledge to use that gear,PLB's have the potential to move people further away from these skills or even the realization that they need them.

On the up side I am aware of several episodes where seriously injured walkers in remote areas have been sucessfully rescued because they activted thier PLB appropriately. However as noted by others once activated, rescue can take from several hours to days so the above skills and gear come into use while you wait

4:48 p.m. on November 1, 2009 (EST)
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Bill,

Perhaps I misunderstood. Where you live the ambulance is provided through taxes, where I live in NH it is the responsibility of several towns (used to be six, but some have lately hired professional ambulance services) and is largely "user pays". "User pays" covers most of NH which has no state income tax or state sales tax. Each subbranch of services needs to fund itself. So, the Fish & Game Dept gets all of its funding from license fees, not from the general fund. And for some reason the Conservation Officers aka Wardens, need to oversee rescues as well as off-road vehicles, etc. They are stretched thin. As for sheriffs having helicopters, that is news to me and them. Usually F&G needs to ask the NH Air National Guard to perform "training" to rescue someone by chopper. In the case of the much-touted Eagle scout, two other rescues were going on at the same time, so F&G had to hire a copter.

Only 59 acres of Mount Washington is state forest, the rest is National Forest, as is most of the Presidential Range yet it is the state that is always called upon to perform rescues. I'm not debating that, or complaining, it is just an interesting fact.

Very few hikers in NH are requested to pay for their rescues; but sometimes the case is so egregious that the Dept. of F&G decides to ask for just compensation - only the costs, no fine. Each year still finds the Dept losing money for other things because of unwarranted PLB and cellphone demands for rescue.

You said:

If I were not required to pay the taxes and fees for the services, and I had the option to pay for them as needed, I would likely choose that option (actually, I do exercise that option right now in some sense - I have rescue and other insurance for emergencies that I pay for).

That is the case here in NH. We do not have the taxes, so the user is expected to pay. I guess that we agree.

11:42 a.m. on November 2, 2009 (EST)
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OMW -

I had forgotten that NH had no income taxes. It's been a looongg time since I lived in Taxachussets (35 years), but I thought I had paid sales tax there (NH) when I was at the Mt Washington Ice Festival a few years ago and bought a couple items at the NConway EMS. Hmmm, is that what the license plate slogan means (Live Free or Die! = NO TAXES!)?

Anyway, that is a somewhat different situation. Someone does have to pay for the services and the gear (fire engines aren't cheap). And it sounds like you are saying that the NH Air Guard has a different attitude/policy than the Alaska and California Air Guards, which view SAR as "training"? As a SAR volunteer, we only got food and some transportation provided, no pay and only certain specialized gear provided. We had the attitude that we were helping people, just as we hoped that people would help us.

Back in the 1960s, when I was doing a lot of spelunking, among other outdoor activities (hmm, is exploring a cave "outdoors"?), we were required to have a standby rescue team, in addition to gear inspection and an experience interview, before the NPS would issue us the key to the cave's gates for caves on NPS land - the Kings Canyon and Sequoia NP personnel did not have the experience or gear for cave rescues. But the backup teams were all volunteers, no one paid, though the gear was group gear in the various organizations (certain Grottos were very possessive about their gear and "their caves", though). The general philosophy was that "I will help you, and you will help me." Same was, and still is largely, true among climbers. Plus, much of the climbing community is happy to help out when "tourists" get themselves in trouble. This mutual aid attitude is one more reason that I have a lot of trouble with the idea of charging for rescues (I also donate to a couple of SAR organizations, since I no longer do SAR myself, except ad hoc if I happen to be in the vicinity - El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol keeps trying hard to sign me up).

2:56 p.m. on November 2, 2009 (EST)
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Bill,

Most of the NH SAR people are volunteers, but they are always coordinated by NHF&G and ofttimes some State and local police are called in to help. In the case of the eagle scout, that was a two day search and because the other searches were still going on, the state had to hire a copter from the ME Forestry Service and one from the, IIRC, Vermont State police (I know the second copter was rented from VT, but it may not have been police). The NH Air National Guard does their searches as training exercises, as I said.

No, no broad-based taxes. NH has a "rooms and service tax" and "food service tax" to skim money from tourists, but goods aren't taxed. OTOH, "we" don't let the legislature meet year-found - they would pass too many laws - and we only pay them $200.00 for a two year term, total.

Just different than where you live, not necessarily a better approach.

October 30, 2014
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