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Another Reason not to trust SPOT

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Re: Another Reason not to trust SPOT

Postby nazdarovye » Mon Sep 15, 2008 9:03 pm

Snow Nymph wrote:Tom, the distress signal goes directly to SAR from what I understand.


No, it always goes through SPOT or their contracted agents first. We did a review for Backpackinglight.com and the five of us involved in the review were all concerned about that and other problems with the SPOT, including poor reception and tracking.

It's a great concept - don't want to send out the wrong message - but I think they have a ways to go regarding reliability and speed of response. Also, the UI is poor right now (blinking LEDs that really depend upon a "cheat sheet" to decipher).

I hope that in the next version they can address these issues and provide more reliability.



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Re: Another Reason not to trust SPOT

Postby The Other Tom » Tue Sep 16, 2008 4:01 am

nazdarovye wrote:
Snow Nymph wrote:Tom, the distress signal goes directly to SAR from what I understand.


No, it always goes through SPOT or their contracted agents first. We did a review for Backpackinglight.com and the five of us involved in the review were all concerned about that and other problems with the SPOT, including poor reception and tracking.


Thanks for the update. Does a PLB go directly to SAR, or does it go through an agent as well ?
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Re: Another Reason not to trust SPOT

Postby Shawn » Tue Sep 16, 2008 10:29 pm

From the Mono Sheriff's Website:

http://www.monosheriff.org/emergencyservices.html

Personal Locator Beacon Information

PLB's are part of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) SARSAT (Search And Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking) system. When an individual (or group) is in distress, activating a PLB results in a 406MHz signal being transmitted. The distress signal is received by the SARSAT system which uses NOAA satellites in low-earth and geostationary orbits to detect and locate the source of the signal.

Initially, the geostationary satellites detect the signal and relay it to a network of ground stations and then ultimately to the U.S. Mission Control Center (USMCC) in Suitland, Maryland. The actual location of the transmitting PLB is then determined using doppler technology from the low-earth satellites which can take up to 45 minutes depending on the location of the PLB transmitter compared with the closest low-earth satellite.

Encoded in the transmitted signal is a serial number which is used to determine the registered owner of the PLB device. Some models of PLB’s include and/or allow a GPS (Global Positioning System) module. The GPS module is able to determine the PLB location by acquiring information from GPS satellites. Once the position is acquired using GPS satellites, the position coordinates are transmitted as part of the PLB signal thereby providing position information within minutes instead of the potential delay of 45 minutes. With the GPS information included in the transmission, the beacons location can be determined within feet instead of miles.

The USMCC provides the location information to the local Search and Rescue authorities. In addition to the 406MHz transmitted signal used by the SARSAT satellites, the PLB devices also transmit a 121.5MHz homing signal that is used by Search and Rescue teams to locate the person in distress once they get close to the location provided by the SARSAT system.


Carrying a PLB while on backcountry trips can provide an extra sense of security; however there are a few things to think about prior to relying on a PLB for rescue in the event of an emergency.

The actual process of rescuing someone in a remote location takes considerable time and effort to complete, regardless of activation of a PLB. The PLB merely notifies others of where you are and of your emergency. Factors such as remoteness, weather, altitude and available rescuers all affect the time it takes to complete a search and rescue mission. Below is an example of the flow of a PLB rescue mission, the time involved can vary and usually takes a number of hours or even days to complete.

First, the PLB must be maintained in proper condition. The user should know how to activate it, keep the batteries charged, keep the PLB with them and should use common sense as to when to use it. No one should depend solely on a mechanical device as it in not a substitute for good judgment.

To broadcast a distress call, the PLB should be in a good position-visible to satellites. Various PLB devices have different electronic configurations and performance can vary. Does your PLB work in water? Does the antenna need a ground plane? Has it been exposed to sub-zero temperatures?

Upon activation, a COSPAS/SARSAT system satellite should pickup the signal and transmits it to the US Mission Control Center (USMCC). The control center will then contact the Office of Emergency Services (OES) warning center of the state where the PLB is activated. For California, the OES warning center will determine what county and/or jurisdiction to contact to initiate a search effort.

Upon contact, Mono County Sheriff’s Department will begin a search effort and a rescue mission. Depending on the factors noted above, a helicopter and/or ground searchers may be utilized to locate the PLB user. The location will be continually tracked and refined to assist aircraft and searchers.

Once the PLB user is found, the situation will be assessed and the rescue mission completed including transport to medical treatment if required. The PLB is not an insurance policy and the technology takes time to notify potential rescuers of an emergency.

DO NOT rely solely on a PLB to save your life..!!
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Re: Another Reason not to trust SPOT

Postby The Other Tom » Wed Sep 17, 2008 4:05 am

Thanks for the info, Shawn. Looks like the signal from the PLB must pass thru several "hands" before the SAR is notified. It's probably the same with SPOT.
The last sentence says it all "DO NOT rely solely on a PLB to save your life..!!" Of course we should include SPOT in that sentence as well. Neither one is like calling 911. The calvary takes some time to get to you.
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Re: Another Reason not to trust SPOT

Postby BSquared » Mon Sep 29, 2008 2:44 pm

Thanks, Shawn!

-B2
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Re: Another Reason not to trust SPOT

Postby gdurkee » Tue Oct 07, 2008 8:56 pm

Shawn:

Great explanation of PLB. As I mentioned in the other post, the SPOT device has been used a several times successfully in Sequoia Kings (hard to believe that our buddies in Yosemite are not aware of it -- in fact, I don't think that's true and must have been just the random person/ranger talked to).

Of course, nothing is a substitute for having your act (equipment, skills and knowledge) together. That said, I'm thinking the SPOT device seems to be an OK thing to have. Certainly to reassure spouses, mothers etc. that you haven't been eaten by a bear and even to (responsibly!!) signal for help if you need it. I have no experience with PLB devices.

The delay is always going to be figuring out what agency is actually responsible for finding you. That will likely take a minimum of 3 to 6 hours. Then you've got weather, terrain and mulling over how much effort and risk (!!) to spend to get to you. Obviously, you can't carry one of these and just assume that everything's going to be OK once you press the magic 911 button. Once you leave the trailhead, you're assuming a major responsibility. If the SPOT or PLB gizmo helps you, great, but it may not save your life... .

g.
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