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Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

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Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby globreal » Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:25 am

Dear Climbing Community,

Due to the recent accident I was involved with in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, I've had numerous conversations with Search & Rescue (SAR) leaders. One conversation lead to a suggestion of a SPOT sending technique. (This technique would have made no difference in Steve's outcome.)

When a backcountry climber hits "911" on a SPOT device, the SAR team does not immediately know the DEGREE OF URGENCY of the emergency. (There is no two-way communication on most SPOTs like what a cell phone provides.) There are many different levels of urgency, i.e: stable leg fracture, lost party/search, carryout of a deceased person, or an imminent life-threatening emergency. The SAR team has to initially assume a stable emergency; they can't immediately send in a helicopter unless they know there is a definite need of a high-risk rescue, to save a life. So, they typically send in a ground team to find the reporting party, eye witness, or actual subject, and then assess the situation.

**THE INFORMATION THAT WAS IN THIS PARAGRAPH HAS BEEN REVISED AFTER CALLING GEOS ALLIANCE (the organization that receives SPOT 911 messages. I sincerely apologize for not having made that call first. I admit my mistake. PLEASE SEE THE UPDATE BELOW.

Remember, SAR will react to all 911 calls, don't cry wolf unless they are truly needed. DON'T try this suggested technique unless it's a dire emergency.
Last edited by globreal on Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby ORION » Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:33 am

Thanks for the advice...I hope I won't need it!

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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby GregMiller » Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:46 am

I'll definitely remember this. I have the Delorm inReach, so most times I have my phone to be able to send/receive text messages, but I can see a better process being to do the above, and then start on your messages describing your situation. Thanks!
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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby sunny1 » Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:50 am

Thanks for posting this, Britt.
Good to know.
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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby BAUMGARA » Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:58 am

Great information Britt, we all appreciate the information you're sharing.

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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby James Dziezynski » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:01 pm

Thanks for sharing this, I hope none of us ever have to use this.
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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby CarpeDM » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:29 pm

Thanks for posting this, Britt. When the news about Steve hit right before our big trip, the fiancee persuaded me to enter the world of SPOT-type devices (Delorme InReach for me). So this is really good info.
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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby AckMonster » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:31 pm

First condolences for your loss - the outpouring for Steve shows just how valued a member he was in this community and how his teachings touched many.

I find the conversation you had with Search and Rescue regarding the SPOT protocol interesting. I have an ACR beacon and I'm sure it is the same procedure regarding the turn on/turn off three times applies. What is concerning is that despite my research (albeit cursory) on the topic, there doesn't seem to be some uniform understanding or best practices of how agencies react to these signals or how users transmit them. This is the first I have heard that I could actually communicate with the beacon outside of the touch once and leave transmitting. Understanding the resources, abilities and protocols of each agency vary by jurisdiction (sometimes greatly), it would be helpful to know if there were a manner of use which would allow me better access to rescue personnel outside of what is instructed by the manufacturer and if there were varying degrees of need of rescue if that could be communicated to rescue personnel via some code transmitted in several signals. Even if it required me to research the PLB practices of each jurisdiction.

I have a sneaky suspicion that for every real signal that SAR receives from a rescue beacon there are two false alarms (I read one instance where some kid on Berthoud used his as an avalanche beacon???) whether it be by accidental transmission or by rescue that wasn't really necessary. Interested to hear any intel from members of SAR on how they react to PLB signals. I just prefer to know that in a life threatening situation where I use a piece of equipment that cost me $400 that I understand what it is actually doing for me.

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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby globreal » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:40 pm

AckMonster wrote:First condolences for your loss - the outpouring for Steve shows just how valued a member he was in this community and how his teachings touched many.

I find the conversation you had with Search and Rescue regarding the SPOT protocol interesting. I have an ACR beacon and I'm sure it is the same procedure regarding the turn on/turn off three times applies. What is concerning is that despite my research (albeit cursory) on the topic, there doesn't seem to be some uniform understanding or best practices of how agencies react to these signals or how users transmit them. This is the first I have heard that I could actually communicate with the beacon outside of the touch once and leave transmitting. Understanding the resources, abilities and protocols of each agency vary by jurisdiction (sometimes greatly), it would be helpful to know if there were a manner of use which would allow me better access to rescue personnel outside of what is instructed by the manufacturer and if there were varying degrees of need of rescue if that could be communicated to rescue personnel via some code transmitted in several signals. Even if it required me to research the PLB practices of each jurisdiction.

I have a sneaky suspicion that for every real signal that SAR receives from a rescue beacon there are two false alarms (I read one instance where some kid on Berthoud used his as an avalanche beacon???) whether it be by accidental transmission or by rescue that wasn't really necessary. Interested to hear any intel from members of SAR on how they react to PLB signals. I just prefer to know that in a life threatening situation where I use a piece of equipment that cost me $400 that I understand what it is actually doing for me.


AckMonster,

One of the real benefits of this website and forum is to start the discussion(s). That was one of my intended hopes of this post. There are several SAR members that frequent this website. I would love to hear their input as well. Jim Davies posted a list of all SAR operators in the state. It could be beneficial to point each one to this thread so we get their input and an established protocol implemented or amended.
Last edited by globreal on Wed Jul 10, 2013 3:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby Dex » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:43 pm

I have a Find Fast. It be interesting to know what SAR think about those. My guess is that they take those seriously when they go off. The only reason to take it out is when you are in trouble - no messaging etc. - you can't turn it on by mistake.
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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby Teresa Gergen » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:47 pm

When you use the SPOT 911/SOS button, it goes directly to a global response center. That center makes the decision to forward the information to the appropriate local SAR team. I am not sure that every SAR team responds the same way when they are contacted by the global response center.

When I needed a helicopter evac rescue and set off my Spot SOS, I was later told by the SPOT global response center that they decided to treat it as a real emergency because the SOS was left on in one place, transmitting the SOS for hours (it took something like 5-6 hours before a helicopter came).

The SPOT literature says the unit will try sending a message for 20 minutes and you should leave it on that long to give it enough time to send. There is no confirmation on a SPOT unit that anything was actually sent or received, and a good percentage of SPOT messages are never actually sent or received (I'm on my 4th SPOT unit, send myself all the messages I send to others, and without having kept records, might guess that one in ten never come).

I would not recommend turning off the SPOT SOS until at least 20 minutes had passed, and I would be somewhat concerned that they might interpret turning the SPOT off as a cancellation of the SOS (I believe those are the instructions to cancel an SOS), especially since it might take another 20 minutes for a second SOS to be received. Depending on where you are when an accident happens, you might not want to risk taking an hour to send three SOS messages and hoping the global response center figures out you mean it. On the eastern side of the Wind River Range in WY, there is no SAR team capable of "high altitude" rescues (told to me by the SAR leader who didn't take over until I was evacuated and in Lander). A rescue involved hobbling together a helicopter from a nearby Indian reservation and rounding up some NOLS kids who knew how to use ropes, in order to get me out first, where SAR then did a medical evaluation and took me in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. If they'd started the process of gathering these resources, then called them off when the SOS was turned off, then had to contact them again, it would have only added to the delay.

I would check with the SPOT response center and verify that they agree with the advice that MRA(?) suggested about turning off and on the SOS, since if the global response center doesn't take the SOS seriously, the local SAR team won't even be part of the equation until they're contacted by someone who's expecting the missing party when they don't show up.

Britt, you have my deepest condolences.

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Re: Sending a SPOT "911" PLEASE READ

Postby Rarefied » Wed Jul 10, 2013 3:32 pm

+1 with Teresa across the board

Teresa Gergen wrote:The SPOT literature says the unit will try sending a message for 20 minutes and you should leave it on that long to give it enough time to send.

Much of this recommendation by SPOT has to do with the nature of the satellite constellation it uses. (Details available upon request -- part of my background includes satellite communications.)

Teresa Gergen wrote:I would not recommend turning off the SPOT SOS until at least 20 minutes had passed....

I fully agree -- see above.

Teresa Gergen wrote:I would check with the SPOT response center and verify that they agree with the advice that MRA(?) suggested about turning off and on the SOS,

Yes, even if the satellite system supported the approach, all players in the chain would have to be on the same page.

The creative thinking about how to make better use of the SPOT system is quite laudable. Unfortunately, the technology doesn't really support it. But my hat is off to those who are trying to expand its capabilities -- and especially in the name of Steve and those who were with him that day.


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