Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yuppie 911: "This water tastes salty." A new twist on the old grasshopper and the ant story.

My son Matthew forwarded this to me with a big laugh. You really have to wonder about some folks.


Royal Arch, Grand Canyon.

Rescuers fear 'yuppie' 911 calls



FRESNO, Calif. — Last month two men and their teenage sons tackled one of the world’s most unforgiving summertime hikes: the Grand Canyon’s parched and searing Royal Arch Loop. Along with bedrolls and freeze-dried food, the inexperienced backpackers carried a personal locator beacon — just in case.

In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep canyon walls.
What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst “tasted salty.”

If they had not been toting the device that works like Onstar for hikers, “we would have never attempted this hike,” one of them said after the third rescue crew forced them to board their chopper. It’s a growing problem facing the men and women who risk their lives when they believe others are in danger of losing theirs.

Technology has made calling for help instantaneous even in the most remote places. Because would-be adventurers can send GPS coordinates to rescuers with the touch of a button, some are exploring terrain they do not have the experience, knowledge or endurance to tackle.

Rescue officials are deciding whether to start keeping statistics on the problem, but the incidents have become so frequent that the head of California’s Search and Rescue operation has a name for the devices: Yuppie 911.

“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.”

From the Sierra to the Cascades, Rockies and beyond, hikers are arming themselves with increasingly affordable technology intended to get them out of life-threatening situations.

While daring rescues are one result, very often the beacons go off unintentionally when the button is pushed in someone’s backpack, or they are activated unnecessarily, as in the case of a woman who was frightened by a thunderstorm.

“There’s controversy over these devices in the first place because it removes the self sufficiency that’s required in the back country,” Scharper says. “But we are a society of services, and every service you need you can get by calling.”

The sheriff’s office in San Bernardino County, the largest in the nation and home to part of the unforgiving Death Valley, hopes to reduce false alarms. So it is studying under what circumstances hikers activate the devices.

“In the past, people who got in trouble self-rescued; they got on their hands and knees and crawled out,” says John Amrhein, the county’s emergency coordinator. “We saw the increase in non-emergencies with cell phones: people called saying ’I’m cold and damp. Come get me out.’ These take it to another level.”

Personal locator beacons, which send distress signals to government satellites, became available in the early 1980s, but at a price exceeding $1,200. They have been legal for the public to use since 2003, and in the last year the price has fallen to less than $100 for devices that send alerts to a company, which then calls local law enforcement.

When rescue beacons tempt inexperienced hikers to attempt trails beyond their abilities, that can translate into unnecessary expense and a risk of lives.

Last year, the beacon for a hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail triggered accidentally in his backpack, sending helicopters scrambling. Recently, a couple from New Bruswick, British Columbia activated their beacon when they climbed a steep trail and could not get back down. A helicopter lowered them 200 feet to secure footing.

In September, a hiker from Placer County was panning for gold in New York Canyon when he became dehydrated and used his rescue beacon to call for help.

With darkness setting in on the same day, Mono County sheriff’s deputies asked the National Guard for a high-altitude helicopter and a hoist for a treacherous rescue of two beacon-equipped hikers stranded at Convict Lake. The next day they hiked out on foot.

When eight climbers ran into trouble last winter during a summit attempt of Mt. Hood in Oregon, they called for help after becoming stranded on a glacier in a snowstorm.

“The question is, would they have decided to go on the trip knowing the weather was going bad if they had not been able to take the beacons,” asks Rocky Henderson of Portland Mountain Rescue. “We are now entering the Twilight Zone of someone else’s intentions.”

The Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch loop, the National Park Service warns, “has a million ways to get into serious trouble” for those lacking skill and good judgment. One evening the fathers-and-sons team activated their beacon when they ran out of water.

Rescuers, who did not know the nature of the call, could not launch the helicopter until morning. When the rescuers arrived, the group had found a stream and declined help.

That night, they activated the emergency beacon again. This time the Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter, which has night vision capabilities, launched into emergency mode.

When rescuers found them, the hikers were worried they might become dehydrated because the water they found tasted salty. They declined an evacuation, and the crew left water.

The following morning the group called for help again. This time, according to a park service report, rescuers took them out and cited the leader for “creating a hazardous condition” for the rescue teams.


Crustyrusty said...

Uh, they had enough cash for the nice toys, they had enough cash to PAY for those rescue squad calls too, right?

sofa said...

Society is served when we let Darwin decide.

milton f said...

We see this type of behavior on Michigan's Lake St. Clair every February and March. Some sissy ice fishermen get on an ice flow, while chasing yellow perch, the floe breaks free, they get scared, and BINGO! the Coast Guard comes and gets them.
Although, several times the hovercraft came out and CREATED more ice floes, and more "customers" that had to rescued.
The yuppies have ruined a good part of the adventure of wilderness. Shame.

Uncle Lar said...

First, bill them for the cost of the rescue.
Second, assuming they are on National Park land revoke their access for a suitable period, say one year.
And the unintended consequence of the whole situation is that rescuers will be much more reluctant to jump when a situation arises. This will tend to increase the risk for folks with legitimate problems.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how this will be accomplished without imposing more of the Big Gub'ment regulations that we all love and abhor . .

The people who "push the button" because they are ill-prepared to be out in the wilderness (notice that the first part of that word is "wild"?) in the first place should be charged for the cost of the rescue service's time (man-hours + training + . . ) and materials (fuel + wear & tear + maintenance + . . ) (plus maybe a little extra to help defray the next idiot's adventure rescue?).

The rescue services need to be given the authoritah (if they don't already) to be able to judge the rescue circumstances and ticket those who have been negligent and/or unprepared be be where they are.

Similar to a police officer issuing tickets at the scene of an accident to the negligent driver.

After that's established, then who cares how many idiots come out to the wilderness? They'll either learn (hopefully without getting someone killed in the process), die, or be charged enough money to make them pause & think (gigglesnort) the next time they want to go out again.

I realize I'm rambling, but I hope you get my drift.

B Woodman

TJP said...

Uncle Lar, make sure you send them a bill for your consulting services, because that is exactly the right answer.

The people's general lack of preparedness is expensive to society in general. My employer's heating fuel cost is through the roof because everyone wants a room temperature like a sauna.

I see people walking around in shorts and sandals in the middle of a New England winter because they expect to be in the pampered luxury of a controlled environment no matter where they go.

Anonymous said...

I looked at the comments on the original site, and most of them were along the lines of "charge them the full amount". I disagree. Charge the locater beacon service company the full amount. That way, it becomes something like true "rescue insurance". The company will pass along the average costs to their subscribers, who will see the costs upfront and make an informed decision as to whether they want to subscribe. Weeds out the tenderfeet in a hurry, much more so than the unquantified risk of being fined later.

thedweeze said...

Time to add some code to the firmware: everyone gets a free bite at the apple, but if the rescue squad gets there and finds there's nothing really going on, they push a button, and the beacon stops working for, I don't know, a month.

I enjoy the Darwin Awards, and I will not be denied my amusement at someone else's expense!

parabarbarian said...

Having done a bit of Search and Rescue when I was younger I can testify that 90% of it is the search part. These locators don't entirely eliminate it but they do reduce the time and hence the cost involved in searching. Sure a few dolts will abuse it but overall the system enables more of the available resources be shifted to rescue.

The article stresses a few instances of abuse but doesn't bother to mention the times the system saves people who genuinely need help. Does that sound familiar? Sort of how the media treats guns: Highlight the bad ignore the good. Typical collectivist thinking.

Fat Caver said...

As a caver and explorer of old mines when I was fitter and less fat...

We organised our own rescue teams and gave the cops the nominated leaders' names and numbers.

Mountain rescue was similler (although the air force and coast guard helicopters did get used there).

When the cops got a call about someone overdue or in trouble, they called the leader, who called out the guys, the cops stored some of the gear (and the diamorphine - and sometimes stole it too)but most gear was personal, they also provided transport for any rescuers over the alcohol limit on a saturday night, or guaranteed them safe passage.

System works bloody well, the cops and firefighters know they don't have the skills underground. Those who are rescued are generally pretty sheepish if they've been stupid, or got out of their depth, the leaders generally let them know too - if they are concious enough to understand.

Big worry was always after loosing someone, and the family were looking for someone to blame.

fortunately the courts have (so far) accepted that if we are afraid of getting sued, then the freely provided service will disappear.

We knew 2 of the guys who died, they were guys like us who got caught by loose ground 10 years apart. it really upset some of the guys to try so hard and not save the guys life - most of us youngsters weren't in the military - we weren't mentally prepared for that - the guys who we overlapped with and are now in their 80s and 90s served in wwii some in korea too- they were tough.

Some of our guys who got injured were tough too - 12 hours crawling out and rope work on a broken ankle.

Back to topic:

Why should the state sector be doing rescue work?

"This water tastes salty" should receive such a chorus of laughter and derision, (and his girlfriend receive a bunch of offers to take a break from such a .... that it will never happen again

(unless they were sales guys - they really do have no shame)

Great blog this, Mike,
I'll have to come here more often.

Fat, balding Caver

word check says "cryingly"

Toastrider said...

Still, you'd think some of these people would wait on pushing the button until they got in real trouble.

If a camper busts his leg, I've got no problem with him punching the panic button. But 'the water tasted salty'?


Anonymous said...

Problem solved: Contract all emergency services to the private sector. -- They bill as they see fit.

The rescue companies could offer to inexperienced hikers different levels of protection.

The "I don't know crap and shouldn't be here" Plan $1500

The "Help me mommie" plan $1350

"help I've fallen and I can't get up" plan $1000


The yuppie 911'er would simply contract the service in advance. And if not, they tough it out.

Anonymous said...

Yet more universal healthcare, which is a tragedy of the commons, and has no known solution. Attempting to address the problem with "government" replaces the helicopter commons with the largest possible commons, the legislature.

Stop funding the helicopter rescuers with taxes, and allow some capitalist to work out how much the equivalent of the American Automobile Association needs to charge the hikers. How much you want to bet the "government" has imposed something that works out to be gun control for helicopter rescuers? Such that you can't do it yourself even if you wanted to, because they've banned it.

Word verification: "masta". What the government is.

Shy Wolf said...

Whatever happened to the days when an "explorer" or "adventurer" went out and actually TOOK chances with their lives hanging in the balance?
Oh, right- they're gone, never to be found again, thank you, Mr Tech Wizard.
These kind of people should be charged full costs, regardless if it's Will "I don't take chances either" Steger, or these idiot yuppies. What's the loss of a few fools compared to the babies killed every day in this country?
If they're unwilling to pay with their lives, let them empty their wallets.
LOL- the verification word is 'sentbusn'- maybe they should've taken the bus?

Phil Wong said...

In Arizona, we already have the "Stupid Motorist Law," whereby any motorist who is stupid enough to drive into a marked flood area with running waters, and subsequently gets washed away and requires rescuing, is billed for the cost of said rescue.

Seems to me there is precedent for doing same to the "Yuppie 911" abusers of rescue services - push the panic button, pay the bill.

Too cheap to push the button? Too bad - guess you shouldn't have been engaged in potentially perilous pursuits beyond the pale, in the first place. If the cost of saving your life is too great for you to bear, this is Nature's way of telling you to do something safer and cheaper, closer to home...

Would the cost of a rescue have been such a burden that you deliberately avoided activating your panic button until it was too late...therefore, it is the rescuer's fault for not providing free services, and they should be held liable for damages? Prove it in court - if you survived long enough to file a lawsuit, obviously you didn't NEED the rescue in the first place...and if you DIDN'T survive, well - you can't very well file a lawsuit OR testify in court about the reasons why you did or didn't call for rescue, now can you?

Dave R. said...

It's been said, but I have to add my voice. Bill them. Collect in full. I'm not generally optimistic about the voting public, but I don't believe we're so far gone that charging for expenses wouldn't fly.

Paul B said...

The solution is so obvious, that everyone here is saying it. Charge people for their rescue.

The fact that solution is not used, says something about the bureaucratic imperative. The rescue agencies may make fun of "yuppie 911", but they will use the increased calls to justify a larger budget. And nobody will be charged for a rescue.