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Getting lost and calling 'yuppie 911'

Published August 20, 2012 4:33 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you've ever gotten lost on the hiking trail and called for help, writer David Roberts has some harsh words for you.

Roberts, a mountaineer and author, wrote an opinion piece published yesterday by The New York Times. He says the proliferation of communication technology and emergency beacons are creating unnecessary calls for help and endangering the lives of rescuers.

In Utah, there are hundreds of searches and rescues every year. There's so many the state has created a special fund to reimburse the counties for some of the costs.

From Roberts' piece:

Search-and-rescue outfits around the country are grappling regularly with "false alerts" and novices' getting in over their heads because they think gadgetry guarantees safety. More and more folks are carrying personal locator beacons, or P.L.B.'s, into the backcountry. With the push of a button they can send out an emergency distress signal, but no information about their predicament.Matt Scharper, search and rescue coordinator for the California Emergency Management Agency, calls the locator beacons "yuppie 911's," adding, "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." Nick Parker, a veteran of 45 years of wilderness rescues in Alaska, said in an e-mail: "The real issue is one of training (or lack thereof), and of our dependence on gizmos to save us. People expect a rescue in the same way they expect a fire engine or ambulance to come when they dial 911."

Roberts goes on to quote a source saying these devices have saved a lot of lives. To most of us, that would be the point. But Roberts adds the devices have created a population of outdoor goers who "not only expect to be whisked to safety at the push of a button, they regard this luxury as an inalienable right."

Also, Robert raises a legitimate question of whether government should be providing rescue services for free or charge for it. On the whole, Robert's opinion piece preaches the need for personal responsibility and good sense in the outdoors.

People tend to practice those when they have an incentive. How do we reduce the number of search and rescues in Utah?

— Nate Carlisle

Twitter: @UtahHikes