In response to the two tragic stories of search and rescue in the Pacific Northwest this past year, Wilderness Magazine chose to highlight the latest in the field of rescue beacons. The article can be found in its latest issue.
Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are distress beacons, intended for people involved in land-based outdoor activities, that transmit radio signals that are detected by 12 Earth-orbiting satellites. The satellites relay the signals to ground stations that process the signals to determine the beacon location and ownership and alert search and rescue (SAR). It is an international program with 63 ground stations in 27 countries. There are some caveats. Unlike beacons for aviation and maritime use that can be automatically activated in a crash or sinking, PLBs require three separate manual operations in order to be activated.
Avalanche rescue transceivers are the best tools for companions to locate a buried friend. Typically costing between $300 and $400+, the transceivers are strongly recommended for all who play and work in avalanche terrain. Strapped to the torso and usually worn under the outermost layer of clothing, the transceiver is a small electromagnetic induction device that transmits a constant signal when turned on. The device should be turned on at the start of the day and turned off at the end of the day. When a member of the group is buried in an avalanche, all remaining companions switch their devices to “receive” and begin to search for the signal.
The RECCO Avalanche Rescue System is a tool that is widely used by organized rescue groups worldwide for rapid location of buried victims. RECCO uses a harmonic radar detector to find reflectors that are permanently attached to clothing and gear used by skiers, snowboarders, and participants in other winter sports. Their use requires no training—just using clothing or equipment with reflectors. RECCO does not interfere with other methods of locating buried victims. Because of the high frequency it uses, RECCO allows direct and very accurate location of the reflectors.
The Mountain Locator Unit is a beacon that was created exclusively for climbers of Mt. Hood after a tragedy in which nine people from the Oregonian Episcopal School lost their lives in 1986. The system consists of transmitters that are rented to climbers and sensitive directional receivers used by search teams. You cannot buy an MLU. They can be rented for $5 per weekend. The climber is instructed on how to activate them. Upon notification that you are missing and that you have an MLU, searchers are able to pinpoint your location in extreme mountain weather. The transmitter has a sealed-in battery that will keep transmitting for months after activation.
Cell phones can save enormous time in reporting an emergency, although dead batteries and intermittent or nonexistent coverage can reduce their usefulness. Depending on beacons and cell phones is a bit of a gamble. The article’s authors reinforce ten essentials for people going into the backcountry:
To read the entire story, see: http://www.allenpress.com/pdf/wimm-24-2-pg19-21-e.pdf
Wilderness Magazine is the quarterly magazine published by the Wilderness Medical Society. For more information, visit http://www.wms.org.
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