Modern day GPS tracking devices can and should be used to reduce the cost of carrying out expensive search and rescue (SAR) operations. The new Spot GPS satellite messenger is a relatively cheap and reliable GPS tracking device that just about anyone can afford and operate. It is not uncommon for a major SAR operation to cost several hundred thousand dollars to complete. In many cases the lost individuals are billed for these expenses but in many cases much of the costs are not recoverable.
As a wildlife officer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service I was trained to be SAR or search and rescue specialist. One of the refuges I was assigned to was a 95,000 acre wild area that included a 25,000 acre designated wilderness area. Each year the public would enter these areas to hunt, fish, bird watch and hike. This of course was before the common use of GPS tracking devices.
At least once a year we would be alerted that an individual or group had not returned to the location they had started from. This would cause us to mobilize our search and rescue team and begin the task of searching for the missing. Initially only local Federal, State and local resources would be employed to do the planning and searching activities. Never the less the effort required valuable resources to be expended in the effort.
If the initial search efforts failed to locate the lost parties then I or my boss would climb into our small aircraft and begin an aerial search using standard grid work and our Loran receiver. We also had a military GPS receiver that was used as a backup. Hand held GPS units were not available to us at the time. Frequently the US Coast Guard was asked to assist in the search as well. In some case search dogs were also employed. All of this effort was very costly to all agencies involved.
In some cases the lost individuals are never found. This is a catastrophe not only for the victims‘ families but also for the agencies who must continue the prolonged search efforts. In many cases a prolonged SAR effort can cause severe financial and personnel problems for the agencies involved.
Given the new GPS tracking device capabilities that are available today it may be wise for federal and state land management agencies to require people who use these land resources to purchase and carry a GPS tracking device similar to the Spot GPS Messenger and Acer GPS units. They are simple to use and will not only reduce the cost of SAR efforts but also increase the chance locating lost and injured victims. The Spot GPS tracking device is strictly a GPS based system and does not depend on unreliable cell phone technology or coverage.
The spot GPS unit is especially suited to this cause. It can allow the user to let family and friend’s the operator’s location and condition on a 24 hour basis. It also allows the user to ask his family or designated contacts for help without notifying SAR agencies. In case of a real emergency the spot will notify the GEOS International Emergency Response Center. They in turn will notify local SAR resources of your exact location. The Spot GPS system will work on about 80 percent of the land mass of the earth.
The cost of conducting SAR operations is increasing each year. Its now time to reduce these costs by requiring all individuals entering remote federal lands to carry either an Acer or Spot GPS tracking device. This new requirement will save both lives and money.