In recent years personal locator beacons have fallen in price hugely. Not too long ago these were used mainly by governments and on ships and cost upwards of $1000. Now you can get them for just a couple of hundred bucks. One would think that rescue teams would think this was a good thing. After all, the ability to summon help via a signal to a satellite (with GPS coordinates thrown in) should make it much safer to be out in the wild or on the mountain and far easier to get help to people who need it.
But it turns out that these bits of rescue gear are causing huge headaches for rescue teams. In much the same was as I recently blogged about a massive increase in calls to mountain rescue teams in Britain by people who could easily walk out but don’t bother, the spread of personal locator beacons (PLBs) has lead to a jump in calls for help by people who don’t need it, and who certainly should not be out of suburbia without adult supervision.
The Seattle Times has a great story about what it calls Yuppie 911 calls. Among the ones it mentions are three activations of a satellite beacon by a group who first thought they had run out of water but then found some. They called for help a day later because they thought the water tasted salty. A helicopter crew left them some. After a third call the next day they were forced aboard the helicopter for creating a hazard for the crew. According to a rescue official from California quoted in the article:
“Now you can go into the back country and take a risk you might not normally have taken,” says Matt Scharper, who coordinates a rescue every day in a state with wilderness so rugged even crashed planes can take decades to find. “With the Yuppie 911, you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn’t have been in in the first place.”