Wow... it seems like in all her ultralight-thru-hiker mentality, she was wholly unprepared for anything bad to happen. Both, in terms of materials, but also mentally. It sounds, from her account, like she had a couple incidents of anxiety and panicked.
I'm tempted to take her blog and go sentence by sentence on how many mistakes a person can make. I'd lead with wearing sandals while hiking in snow. Alas, no time, though I think it might be instructive for others tempted by super-lightweight and not much experience. She seems to blame it all on her lighter not working... .
Well, as it turns out I did do a very long interview (along with a friend from YOSAR) with her to try to figure out where she & the SPOT went wrong. Hugely interesting and I'm still (along with Yosemite SAR) in the midst of analyzing and coming up with some recommendations. Katalina is her name and she was incredibly honest, articulate and helpful in the interview. I think she now recognizes she could have made some much better equipment choices for her level of experience.
Interestingly, she thinks the 911 feature is a mistake:
Is there anything in the SPOT literature or the “form factor” (design) of their device that you think could be done differently?
Yes, I would have the 911 feature removed completely. The genius of the device and the feature for which I brought the SPOT was the “OK” button. The “OK” Button automatically sends an email to 10 of my friends and family. The email plotted a spot on a map so they could see where I was every night.
However, both YOSAR and I believe she was in a true emergency and justified in using the 911 button, even though she did get herself out of the situation.
My main interest is in the SPOT. The initial response by Inyo SAR looked in the wrong area (by about 20 miles). It now appears that the coordinates were not correctly plotted or were transposed somewhere in the chain of information (SPOT/GEOS to California Office of Emergency Services to Inyo Sheriff). SPOT/GEOS emergency center gave me the initially recorded coordinates and they match where Kat said she was. There are definite software fixes & protocols that can be put in place to prevent this at the responder level. Not sure I have the influence, but I'll try.
Last summer (2009) Sequoia Kings had something like 6 SPOT or PLB activations. I think most all of them were bogus or not really a true emergency. I talked to a guy with San Bernardino Sheriff office who's been compiling activations for 2 years. He's only got 28 records but says that all but 4 or so seem legit (though not including Sequoia data from this year).
This may be an interim problem in that the next generation will have two way text capability so you can at least get an idea of the level of response needed as well as tell them to stay put or call their mother. It appears that Sequoia Kings will write up a hand out to be given to hikers carrying locator devices on what they're responsibilities are and what the capabilities and response are of the various buttons.
One initial recommendation I would make to people is to have a good understanding with your friend list on what is meant by the HELP button (not 911). Often there is no prior agreement and NPS gets calls from the friends. What should be the agency response without a direct call for help (ie, 911)?.
Kat did have such an agreement which said to her friends that if the "help" was activated, that just meant she was somehow incapacitated but it wasn't life threatening. If that signal came the next day from the same location, that a friend should try to come in to help (sprained ankle or something). At the same time, though, the friends should probably know how to navigate with a GPS.
The Google map, for instance, doesn't show the trail layer to navigate by. If you're not on the trail (as in Kat's case), friends should have the skill to find you by coordinates. As noted elsewhere, other map programs give you better maps (ArcGIS Explorer and TOPO have a regular USGS topo map). Also, your friends should be aware that location on a Google map is marked by a green arrow, NOT a lettered pin.
Another part of the agreement could/should be that if the HELP signal is progressing towards a trailhead, that a friend should head there for an unscheduled pickup.