SARstories News is our blog for all things Search & Rescue: interesting mission reports and articles, featured SAR teams and new items on the website, upcoming conferences, gear reviews, and anything else that piques our interest and we hope will pique yours.

Learn About Becoming a SAR Volunteer

Monday, September 29, 2008

A New Gadget: the SPOT

Have you heard of this thing? It's a personal satellite communicator called SPOT, which utilizes the GPS satellite network to find its location. The gadget then transmits that location and the user's status to friends, family and/or emergency personnel. I'd happened upon an online review of this product and then, a few days later, saw it in an outdoor store in the case with the GPS units. The orange caught my eye as I walked past, on my way to the sock bin.

So the way this SPOT thing works is that the transmitted message is written in advance by the owner as either a text message, an email link of the user's location on Google maps along with coordinates, or both. Depending on which of the buttons is pushed--OK, Help, or the recessed 911 button--the message can state that the user is fine, that help is needed but not emergency help, or that the person is in trouble and requires rescue. The 911 message goes to the Search & Rescue Center in Houston, TX that SPOT uses. They will then acquire the sender's location, try to get in touch with the emergency contacts listed on his or her account and, if the sender can’t be located shortly, the service will activate the appropriate search and rescue outfit.

While a personal locator beacon (PLB) sends out a distress signal, the SPOT can differentiate between "I'm okay, just updating you on my progress and location" and non-emergency and emergency calls for assistance. And this gadget at about $150, which is significantly less than a PLB, will work where there is no cellphone coverage. In addition to the initial cost, however, there's an annual subsciption charge of $99 to send out the various messages, as well as a $50 option which puts out electronic breadcrumbs every ten minutes.

In the online review I found, former police officer and Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Tactical Instutite, Ron Avery writes, "Imagine officers or emergency personnel operating in the backcountry, checking in when they can’t get cell phone or radio coverage. Teams can operate in the backcountry and send in updates of progress that a command center can track via computer and know the location of personnel." He also points out various other uses of the SPOT, including giving it to kids so they can check in when they're are out and about or on an outdoor trip. Same goes for those hunting and fishing (or hiking, climbing, skiing, etc.) in remote areas.

It's probably not something I'd add to my gear wishlist any time soon, but if it works as well as Ron Avery says it does (he's tested it extensively and claims it functions just as advertised) then it sounds like the SPOT is a very useful and perhaps will even be a life-saving new product.

No comments: