Friday, March 9, 2007

A Summit Technology Can’t Reach - New York Times

A story in today's New York Times about rescuing mountain climbers caught my eye. There are a few themes here that pertain to our industry. The first is that the readily available technology that promises to aid in search & rescue (like GPS & EPIRBs) creates a false sense of security, and encourages people to push the "rescue me" button rather than figure out how to save themselves:

The technology has made it easier to rely more on search-and-rescue personnel,
and less on skill and knowledge. For example, as cellphones have become common,
well-equipped and trained hikers have used cellphones to call for rescue,
although in hindsight they could have descended on their own.

The implication is that the rescuers may be taking unnecessary risks on behalf of stranded hikers who probably shouldn't be on the mountain to begin with. Sound familiar?

What really caught my eye was this:
"In these cases, the high-tech devices wasted rescuers’ time and cost taxpayers
huge sums of money. (Under Oregon law, climbers can be charged only $500 to
cover rescue costs, yet the local sheriff’s office in the December rescue
attempt reportedly spent more than $5,000 a day for more than a week.) One can
envision a similar effect with locators, which send out a distress call with the
pull of a cord, if they became mandatory. "

Oregon law limits the rescue charges. I assume this means how much money that the government can charge for rescue costs, and that this limit doesn't apply to any private company. As far as I know, there aren't any private mountain climber rescue companies. Is that because the government does it for free? Are hikers more valuable than boaters?

I have so many questions: Why would the state want to limit their own ability to recoup rescue costs? What is to stop the state of Oregon from getting into the marine rescue business with the same dollar limits? Why should hikers be insulated from the costs of their own rescue, and why should non-hiking taxpayers foot the bill?