Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos | High Sierra Topix  

Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Share your advice and personal experiences, post a gear review or ask any questions you may have pertaining to outdoor gear and equipment.
User avatar

Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby gdurkee » Mon Nov 12, 2012 3:54 pm

OK. With the tragic disappearance of Larry and some other relevant threads around here, I thought I'd summarize what I know of emergency location and messaging devices. The acronym (and there's always an acronym) is SENDS: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices. For the average consumer, there are three on the market: SPOT (two models); DeLorme and various PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons).

There is, of course, an understandable philosophical debate on carrying a gizmo into the solitude of the wilderness where you're "on your own" as the writer Aldo Leopold once put it. I'll not enter that debate, it being a very personal choice. I will, though, say that it sure makes the job of SAR people easier and, arguably, can potentially save families and friends a huge amount of grief. Because of a history of serious accidents and fatalities within government agencies, I have recommended that all employees carry one when traveling off-trail (remember now, I'm a lowly grunt and have little influence, though that doesn't stop me...). I would go so far as to say that anyone hiking alone should strongly consider having one.

The misuse of these gizmos make it regularly into the press and there's no question it's a potential problem. However, the responses I've been involved in and know about were all legitimate, with a couple of exceptions (a lame horse!).

So ok. There's three types available for the average consumer and another one that really only works for an agency (the GeoPro Messenger):

DeLorme InReach
This works as a standalone using the Iridium Satellite network. It's got an emergency activation button that can signal either the GEOS International Emergency Response Center (which is the SPOT command center) for 24/7 monitoring and relay of an activation to the responsible SAR agency. That's available for a monthly subscription price. Or you can set it to notify up to 5 friends or relatives. You have to be sure, though, that one or all of those people will be in cell or email range and always checking, but that's free. It will send up to 3 pre-programmed messages and do tracking at whatever interval you set it to. It'll also do an "I'm here" waypoint send to a web site or pre-programmed list of people.

It's major advantage, though, is when paired with either the DeLorme PN 60w GPS or an iPhone or Android (one Delorme model is for the gps, another for the phones -- they won't do both). This allows two way text communication to cell phones or email addresses as well as communication with any SAR people involved.

I've used and tested it and think pretty highly of it. The satellite device as a standalone seems to have pretty good battery life. Seems like it'll send out tracking every hour or so as well as pre-programmed messages for at least a week long trip. I also used it paired with the PN 60w GPS. That was a little disappointing. The messaging and tracking worked extremely well, however the batteries on the GPS with just minimal tracking and messaging seemed to last only two days. Both use AA batteries, so that's a plus but for messaging on the gps, you'd better have a bunch. However, if your plan is only to use it for emergencies and maybe one "I'm here" signal per day, it'll work fine.

I didn't try it with the iPhone or Android yet. I loaned it to a person with an iPhone but the testing was not enough to determine battery life. Tracking and texting were excellent. I saw a hiker useing it with his daughter's iPod -- so any new smart iX device will apparently run the app.

SPOT
There's two models, but I've tried neither though responded to calls for help and talked extensively to the GEOS International Emergency Response Center. The basic SPOT just does one way outbound signalling and pre-programmed messaging (3, I think). It uses the GlobalStar satellite system. The second is the SPOT II, it allows for outbound texting (but not inbound/receiving) messaging when paired with a smartphone. Both track, though at a default ping every 15 minutes; will send an "I'm Here" location and pre-programmed messages as well, of course, as an emergency activation to the IERC.

All of these devices signal to a web portal you can share with your friends. During an emergency activation, that information is made available to the responders from the time of the activation (but not before without the permission of someone who has access to the portal).

PLBs
Personal Locator Beacons. These are based on the emergency satellite system and response developed for the military and boats. They only send out an emergency call when activated which goes to the military emergency response center. They don't do tracking, "I'm here" or messaging. Only an emergency activation. The new ones (and that should be all that are around now) use an actual GPS signal for an accurate location. In addition, they broadcast a tone on a frequency that allows responders to triangulate the signal. Older PLBs worked only by a doppler calculation from passing satellites. It was the only thing around, but not great. On the off chance you buy a used one, make sure it's not one of those. You register the PLB -- not sure if there's a fee for that, but there's no subscription fee.


GeoPro & Shout Nano

There are two other devices worth mentioning for those of you who work somewhere large enough to buy and maintain an emergency response monitoring (for instance, our local college bought 10 and carries them on field trips as well as uses them for GIS and Emergency Response training). The GeoPro Messenger and the SHOUT Nano. Both use the GeoPro web portal. Both use the Iridium satellite network, will do two way texting to and from an email address or cell phone; will do "I'm here" and tracking at an interval you set. Both can be queried from an Administrator of the account.

The big difference is the company/agency has to set up it's own emergency response notification list. That means it would have to be reliably monitored 24/7. One agency uses a dedicated phone that only an emergency call from the device would activate --- meaning it's an emergency. It sits in the 24/7 dispatch center. Kind of a klunky workaround, but it does work. Also, the web portal allows an Administrator to monitor the tracking locations and text messages of everyone in the field on one screen. I've used both these devices and think they work extremely well.

Whew! There's more details for all these gizmos, but those are the general outlines. Overall, I'd take a close look at the DeLorme but individual preferences may vary... . The two way capability is worth a lot as well as it's ability to be programmed for variable tracking. There's also a strong argument to be made for it's use of the Iridium network vs. the GlobalStar. A technical argument I'm not sure I fully understand, but friends who should know prefer the Iridium.

I also haven't covered or used a Iridium satellite phone that is a phone as well as having tracking and emergency locator activation. I talked to the rep about these. They're promising and worth looking at. There's also one operated by Inmarsat. These use a geostationary satellite which means if you get a signal, you always have a signal. If not, you're out of luck. Iridium and GlobalStar have a net of satellites in various orbits, so the hope is one comes around which will give you coverage for a quick sent, at least. Worth further research if that's the direction you want to go.

Everyone here saw first hand the emotional and practical cost of having no idea where a person is when they don't come back on time. That should definitely be strongly considered in the decision making when choosing to get one or not.

George



User avatar
gdurkee
Founding Member
 
Posts: 658
Joined: Tue Nov 08, 2005 8:20 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby John Harper » Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:16 pm

Thank you for your service, George. Been reading "The Last Season" and your name is mentioned quite a bit, backcountry rangers are quite a breed.

So, the PLB's don't need a subscription service? Seems a waste to pay for a yearly access when you only use it during summer (most of us, at least).

What's a reasonably priced PLB? I really don't need to contact or email anyone when out by myself, just a way to contact Mr. Wizard, and get my ass some help if necessary.

John
User avatar
John Harper
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 109
Joined: Wed Dec 15, 2010 11:54 am
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby gdurkee » Mon Nov 12, 2012 5:28 pm

John:

Alas, I don't know much about PLBs, so you'll have to check suppliers or, with luck, someone here who uses one will answer.

The reason I kinda push the two way messaging is because the responders can decide, by texting you, if it's a true emergency or one that'll wait a day or even maybe send a horse rather than a helicopter (which would be the standard response if there's no other information and the distance is great). The idea is to reduce the risk to responders, increase their knowledge of the situation and ability to give advice & etc.

But, the PLB is probably the simplest of all the gizmos. Just push a button... . Probably calling one of the stores that specialize in marine and aviation would get better answers too.

g.
User avatar
gdurkee
Founding Member
 
Posts: 658
Joined: Tue Nov 08, 2005 8:20 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby John Harper » Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:22 pm

Thanks, I'll do some investigation. I can only imagine the things people today see as an "emergency" rather than frivolous and silly. Just look at how many call 911 for no urgent reason whatsoever.

John
User avatar
John Harper
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 109
Joined: Wed Dec 15, 2010 11:54 am
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby SweetSierra » Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:30 pm

I've used SPOT 1 for several years and it has unfailingly provided accurate information to my contact list. I've always sent the signal after I've sent up camp for the night. The 911 feature on SPOT is meant for a true life and death emergency, as it notifies emergency responders as well as your contact list. I feel very comfortable taking SPOT on my backpacks. Compared to some of the stuff I throw into my backpack, the weight isn't significant. :D I just pack it and forget that its there until I send an OK message at the end of the day. If it one day saves my life and gives my friends and family a little less to worry about when I travel alone, it's not a burden at all. It gives me greater peace of mind when I'm out alone. But to each her or his own.
Thanks for the information on all the units.

SS
User avatar
SweetSierra
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 223
Joined: Mon May 16, 2011 12:23 pm
Location: Nothern California
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby rlown » Mon Nov 12, 2012 6:51 pm

you still have to touch the device to send a message, or in SPOT w/tracking case, you need to put that outside your pack; not bury it inside. It does you no good at all if you can't reach it. After a heart attack, lets say, you will not reach it.

I'd prefer a dead-man switch that goes off when I don't do it manually with some sort of alarm that reminds one to do the whole manual thing. That's how Marine PLB's work.. they get wet and go off.

Had a Marine PLB here recently go off in Bodega Bay. Fortunately, no one was on the boat. It sank in the harbor. Unfortunately, the person who bought the boat didn't re-register it in their name so it took extra time to track down who might be on the boat.

That being said, I prefer to hike with a friend. One or the other can press the button.
User avatar
rlown
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 5358
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 5:00 pm
Location: Petaluma and Wilton, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby tim » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:47 pm

I've had a SPOT 1 since they were first introduced and borrowed a Delorme inReach this summer (paired with my iPhone). One potentially important feature that Russ mentions is that the tracking service allows people to know where you were, if you are traveling solo and are incapacitated. Of course you can't do that with a satphone or a PLB (note the newest Iridium satphones have the capability of doing tracking, but I don't think that is necessarily available as an off-the-shelf service right now) - you have to be sentient to summon help. However, it may not be much of an advantage in terms of summoning help because you would probably tell someone at home not to worry if the device stops working

In comparing the two products, if you simply want an emergency alerting plus tracking device, the SPOT device is definitely fit for purpose (and rather cheaper than inReach). It seemed to be near ubiquitous in the Sierra this summer, while awareness of inReach was essentially zero. However, SPOT only has one way messaging (even if you get the SPOT Connect device that can be paired with a cellphone). I found the two-way messaging on inReach a huge advantage because of the ability to keep in touch and coordinate our return as well as sending an email asking for a weather forecast (also it kept the kids happy texting with their mom). I actually wouldn't be surprised to see Delorme make weather reports automatically available in the future rather than having to ask someone at home to send you the report. However, you are going to have to pay a bit more for the inReach device and service (I think the best deal for summer hikers is the $40 per month for 4 months then nothing for the rest of the year). One good part of the inReach subscription is the ability to download their nice maps onto your phone and see your track on them.

Whitney map.PNG
Whitney map
Whitney map.PNG (246.56 KiB) Viewed 381 times

Messages.PNG
Messages
Messages.PNG (174.53 KiB) Viewed 382 times


As far as battery life goes, I have never replaced my SPOT batteries - they have lasted for something like 25 days of hiking. With the inReach, I had to replace the batteries at the end of my 6 day trip, though mostly because we were texting rather more than expected (that was 5 full days tracking plus about 40 messages). Nevertheless inReach likely won't last as long in tracking mode as SPOT. You do also have to be careful with your cellphone battery life - I took one of the iPhone cases that includes an extra battery and we were fine for the 6 days (in fact it would have lasted for about 10 days) but I didn't use the maps on the phone all the time, just when we stopped for lunch and at the beginning and end of the day. Performance on both SPOT and inReach is fine - I had one occasion where it took 10 mins for my inReach message to go through (faulty satellite I assume) but otherwise it was near instant, and both systems lose a few track points (though less on inReach than on SPOT, because SPOT is just fire and forget - it doesn't know if the link to the satellite can be established, whereas inReach establishes the link before sending). Both satellite systems, Globalstar (SPOT) and Iridium (inReach), work fine right now - Globalstar is a little less than 100% reliable for voice, but SPOT uses extra satellites that just have the one way capability to fill any gaps in the system. Iridium will be replacing its satellites in 2-3 years but shouldn't have any significant problems in the near future - occasionally there will be a short gap before the next satellite comes over, but because you know a message went through that isn't a problem.

I can't say much about PLBs, but they have got much cheaper and of course there is no service fee. It is the cheapest way to go (and most traditional because you don't have any contact except in a true emergency). Amongst those who want to pay for tracking service, my expectation is that the basic SPOT unit (being much cheaper) will continue to take probably 75% of the market. Those who want the messaging will likely opt for inReach (for two-way) rather than SPOT Connect. The vast majority of those will use it with an iPhone or Android phone (the best option anyway because of access to your phonebook etc). Some will use a satellite phone instead of any tracking device (if they want to call for help but don't feel tracking is needed) because that isn't much more expensive right now. However, prices for satellite phones are going up (I don't think the good deals now on prepaid cards for the ISatPhone Pro will last more than another 3-6 months) and so inReach is likely to be on a lot more people's radar by next summer.
User avatar
tim
Topix Expert
 
Posts: 496
Joined: Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:36 pm
Location: Bay Area
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby rlown » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:54 pm

i'm gonna keep coming back to this.. If you're solo and you can't touch it.. that's a problem..
User avatar
rlown
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 5358
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 5:00 pm
Location: Petaluma and Wilton, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby ironmike » Mon Nov 12, 2012 8:04 pm

Yeah, and if you can't touch your SEND, then you likely can't touch your food or water or anything else that's going to keep you alive until SAR reaches you. Now THAT is a problem.

There are still plenty of likely scenarios where these devices are useful and I am grateful to Gdurkee for the primer. I am certain that they will evolve considerably as public awareness and usage grows. Perhaps they will eventually sport features that satisfy even the naysayers.
User avatar
ironmike
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 44
Joined: Sun Oct 30, 2005 8:14 pm
Location: San Diego, CA
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby hikerdmb » Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:07 pm

I go solo many times a year, backpacking in the Sierra on and off trail, and backpacking in the desert where there are no trails. I bought the inReach this spring and used it on 3 Sierra trips this summer, including a 5 day solo trip from Onion Valley to Sixty Lake Basin and back. My wife feels so much better when I go solo now. I leave the inReach on, outside my pack, during the day and have it on tracking mode. I turn it off at night after sending a message letting her know I am good and in my camp. I always wait to get a message back from her before turning it off just to make sure the message went through. So far every message has reached its intended person. I do bring some extra lithium batteries for it and also a back-up battery for my iPhone that links with the inReach. I will carry this extra weight to make my wife feel better. She says it is "the best money we have ever spent and it is worth every penny." I see the point about having to touch a button for it to work, but the way I use it, my wife/friends will know the location of my last camp/message, or know my track, which will give a good idea as to where I am if something should go wrong. I know this is not for everyone but it has worked for me. Also, I always leave her a detailed map of my route and stick to it as closely as possible. When I go solo I also let a couple friends with Sierra or desert experience know my route. Nothing is guaranteed out there, but the inReach gives some peace of mind to family at home.
User avatar
hikerdmb
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 54
Joined: Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:09 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby lostcoyote » Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:14 pm

i use spot mainly to reduce my wife's worries when i am out alone in remote locations.

when on 4 wheel drive roads, it can be a great help if you break down in a remote location (plenty in utah) & need a tow or ride out.

p.s. - i do. i figure there's a higher probability that i CAN reach it (yeah, even when in MONSTER talus, trip, and break a leg) as compared to not being able to reach it.

also, even if you can not reach it, if one is diligent in sending out a signal several times a day, it at least gives the SAR team a starting point from last known sent coordinates.
Last edited by lostcoyote on Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:30 pm, edited 5 times in total.
User avatar
lostcoyote
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 262
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 9:11 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby rlown » Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:19 pm

we've all seen some very big talus here. it doesn't take much to die in there. add that to your probability. Esp, the solo part.

We could just accept that as the risk. Wifey doesn't like that much. And that spot isn't gonna get pressed.
User avatar
rlown
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 5358
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 5:00 pm
Location: Petaluma and Wilton, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Next

Return to Outdoor Gear Topix



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google Adsense [Bot] and 9 guests