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National Park Service Says Tech Is Enabling Stupidity 635

theodp writes "The National Park Service is finding technology to be a double-edged sword. While new technologies can and do save lives, the NPS is also finding that unseasoned hikers and campers are now boldly going where they never would have gone before, counting on cellphones, GPS, and SPOT devices to bail them out if they get into trouble. Last fall, a group of hikers in the Grand Canyon called in rescue helicopters three times by pressing the emergency button on their satellite location device. When rangers arrived the second time, the hikers complained that their water supply tasted salty. 'Because of having that electronic device, people have an expectation that they can do something stupid and be rescued,' said a spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park. 'Every once in a while we get a call from someone who has gone to the top of a peak, the weather has turned and they are confused about how to get down and they want someone to personally escort them. The answer is that you are up there for the night.'"
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National Park Service Says Tech Is Enabling Stupidity

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  • by ntufar ( 712060 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:20AM (#33339326) Homepage Journal
    This is how it works here, in Greece.

    If you issued a distress signal (MAYDAY) from a boat, and you are not sinking, the Coastal Guard charges you for the helicopter ride. Never tried it myself but people say it is in 50,000 - 100,000 euro range.
  • Re:This is wrong. (Score:5, Informative)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:33AM (#33339434) Homepage

    "Enabling" in this context means to allow and passively encourage, by removing obstacles and trying to compensate for it. It's like "enabling an alcoholic" by making excuses for them, calling in sick for them, cleaning up their puke for them, etc. "Enabling stupidity" doesn't mean "making people stupid".

  • Re:Not New (Score:5, Informative)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:51AM (#33339568) Homepage

    You wouldn't be referring to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, would you? My sister used to do S&R up there (as well as some other places), and has some great stories like a guy who called in lost who described his location as "I'm lying in a field with blue flowers" and was unable to provide any more information, including where he started and what trail he had been following. And of course every year a bunch of yokels get themselves killed on Mount Washington, although most of that happens in the spring and fall when things look quite pleasant at the base while at the summit it's snowing and a wind chill of -20 F. To give an idea of how dangerous a lot of those mountains are during the winter: people who are planning on climbing Denali and other major mountaineering peaks use the White Mountains as a training ground, because it's possible to go up there for the day, experience arctic conditions for a while, and be back down at the base for dinner.

    The basic story is that rescuers take risks every time they go out to look for somebody, and it's important to recognize that. If you do need a rescue, it will help immensely if your call for help includes:
    - A good description of where you are, including where you started, what landmarks you've passed recently, what trail you were following or are on, GPS coordinates if you have them, and anything else you can think of that will help your rescuers find you easily.
    - A good description of the injuries and risks to the victim. For instance, if someone has broken their leg, but is otherwise seems fine and has stable vital signs, that means a significantly less risky and expensive rescue than if they've broken a leg and several ribs and punctured a lung and has pulse rate rising every hour. Ideally somebody in the group has proper wilderness first aid training, and if so they should treat the patient according to their training.
    - What tools and supplies you have with you, including whether you can stay the night reasonably safely. This is especially important late in the day.
    - What self-rescue efforts you have taken already and plan to take. For instance, in the case of a broken leg, it will help if you explain that you're going to splint the leg and start working on improvising a litter, and will call again if the group starts moving.
    - Oh yes, and while we're on the subject, move the group if and only if you can explain exactly where you're going and the route you plan to take. Otherwise, stay put at the spot that you've explained to your rescuers.

  • by GooberToo ( 74388 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:06AM (#33339712)

    A "cheap", single turbine news copter can easily cost $1000/hr to operate. Imagine a large, long-range, twin turbine copter chugging along several hours, back and forth, at roughly $3000-$6000/hr. Those bills can certainly add up fast!

    Now you know why helicopters are traditionally the ride for the military and/or the rich and famous.

  • by sizzzzlerz ( 714878 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:18AM (#33339836)

    Having a 4x4 simply means being able to get stuck further from the pavement.

  • by MikeBabcock ( 65886 ) <> on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:27AM (#33339940) Homepage Journal

    While I wish I could enjoy the humour of your comment from up here in Commie Canada, we have to pay for our own ambulance service as well in many cases.

  • by kevinNCSU ( 1531307 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:38AM (#33340054)
    Your post highlights the fact that it's simply a lack of experience problem coupled with technology:

    deep into isolated territory

    The problem is that it doesn't seem like deep isolated territory, and it doesn't have to be to get into serious trouble. There's a lot of places where you might park your car at a bustling parking lot filled with civilization and plan a day hike, back by 5pm, but instead find yourself alone and freezing on the peak as weather has shifted and visibility has dropped.

    I saw this prominently in Rickets Glenn in PA a couple weeks ago. There's a very short but lovely day hike up and down about 14 waterfalls in a bustling park. Lots of amenities in the parking lots and park proper and lots of people. No Cell phone reception on the trail though, and while extremely well maintained it's still very steep ascents and descents around the waterfalls. I ran into one extremely overweight woman about halfway through the trip that was sweating and throwing up because she had a heart condition and left her nitro in the car. There was no Earthly reason a woman like this should be hiking, but with the amenities and easy access she probably thought she was going for a short walk through the park to check out some waterfalls.

    As if that wasn't bad enough, this same trip we ran across a dude that fell 20-30 feet off the trail landing on rocks at the base of the falls cracking his head open. There was a nurse and PT to work on him but I had to run the trail for about a mile before I could find someone with cell reception and put in the call. These are crowded trails, but because of the masquerade of civilization no one else was carrying a first aid kit. Took about an hour for the Park ranger to respond with a med bag and the helicopter a little later. I'm guessing he made it, he had lost a bit of blood but had regained consciousness and they were trying to keep him calm and talking while waiting by the time I peaced out, but my point is that these people don't think their in the deep woods or isolated territory because of how convenient we've made park access.

    People just don't get that when you walk off the road for 15 minutes you are isolated and better have everything you need for whatever that area can throw at you. And it's not something that's intuitive, because these areas don't look isolated, and they don't feel dangerous. It's like a sunny calm day on the ocean, everything's real peachy till it ain't.

  • by sarkeizen ( 106737 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:53AM (#33340240) Journal
    In Ontario it's $45 as a co-payment for any non-hospital originating, health card holding, medically necessary local trip. You can be exempt to this fee if you are in a variety of low-income situations. If, like a lot of us you have supplemental insurance provided by your employer then this is often covered. It is $0 if it is hospital to hospital (in the same situation above). It's $240 (or more if it's an air-ambulance) if you do not have a valid health card or the trip is considered medically unnecessary. So yes if you meant we pay a *small portion* of ambulance services in a few *reasonable cases* I'd agree with you but this is completely different that what happens in less communist medical systems :-)
  • by SolarStorm ( 991940 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:57AM (#33340294)

    I am 50ish and pilot. I learned to fly when I was 17 flew for a bit (10 years ish), then had a family. I then decided to return to flying. I went back for some more training. The differences.

    1st time: My instructor was an OLD WWII vet. A mean cuss that ALWAYS was trying to get me lost. I live in Central Alberta where land marks are few, its flat, and water lines can vary greatly from the charts. We used a map covered in wax paper, a pencil with 1" marks cut in to it and a watch. I never did get lost.

    2nd time (25 yrs later): Modern aircraft, Cessna 172 instead of the 1947 fleet canuck. GPS as well as compass. Instruct must have been all of 6 or 7 (really about 25ish). Nice young kid, good skilled pilot. We went up for a refresher check out flight. Did a stall, spin, slow flight etc. (Oh yeah, he did smile at my knee board with the wax paper and pencil). At the end of the flight he said lets head for home and I banked the aircraft while he punched in the coords on the GPS. By the time he was done, I was already on the heading. He was mildly impressed.

    We went for coffee and discussed the differences in our training. We both admitted that I could use some more training using the GPS. However he offered his time in trade get some more experience with my flight computer (plastic slide rule for headings and wind for the non pilots) and knee board. He recognized that if he ever did loose his GPS for what ever reason, a manual system might be good to know.

    I look at all of the technology available to today's hikers, boaters (I have my skippers papers too), and pilots that forget about the mark I computer sitting on our shoulders. It provides a false sense of security. Everything is fine in the perfect scenario, but for many of these adventures, emergencies arise, not because of a real act of god but a lack of planning. When diving we say "Plan the dive, dive the plan". This should be applied to all "adventures" but we live in a society where the quick adventure is what we are after and fewer a learning how to plan and be prepared. We are quick to pass on the responsibility to technology or experts, knowing that we can sue if they fail.

    The only answer I can see is passing on the expenses of rescues to the rescuees. Legit or otherwise. Might be a good thing to take out adventure insurance... The more training you have, the less the insurance would be...

  • Re:Not New (Score:3, Informative)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:58AM (#33340318)
    The thing to remember is that a mountain rescue can be a lot more expensive and dangerous than picking up a swimmer who gets pulled to sea.
  • Re:This is wrong. (Score:2, Informative)

    by niteshifter ( 1252200 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:12AM (#33340548)

    ...There is nothing wrong with grabbing a map and a compass and going out on a hike, but with the advancement in tools to help us navigate more effectivily, who really wants to take an old school map with them....

    Hi, long time hiker and caver here (+40 years at it) and the answer to your question is:

    Anyone who wishes to avoid Nature's capital punishment for the crime of being stupid in her domain.

    I have a GPS ... and I always take a compass and waterproof USGS topo for the quad(s) I'll be in. Batteries and 'tronics can fail. They can be lost, as can the maps and compass. So be smart and have a backup. And keep the two sets of nav aids separated in your gear.

  • Re:Not New (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:34AM (#33340958)

    FYI, the word is "rescue", not "resque". I've seen you do that a few times now so I figured I should point it out. Sorry for being a pedant

  • Re:Insurance (Score:3, Informative)

    by jc79 ( 1683494 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:40AM (#33341054)
    In the Alps, where mountain rescue helicopters are usually privately owned and run, a year's mountain rescue insurance cover, often included as part of membership of a mountaineering club, costs around €50 ($60). Not outside the realm of affordability, even for those on low incomes. No need to demonstrate experience, preparedness etc.
  • by Securityemo ( 1407943 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:48AM (#33341214) Journal
    In dear communist motherland Sweden, you pay up to 120$ for any form of health care per year, including dentistry, and up to 250$ for medicine. And if you can't pay, you don't need to pay at all. And no, I don't have to wait for days to get it, unless it's something weird and they have to ship me to a specialist in one of thelarger regional hospitals.
  • by Pingmaster ( 1049548 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:51AM (#33341280)
    In Canada, ambulances for life-threatening emergencies are free (i.e. you have a heart attack and need a hospital NOW). Non life threatening emergencies do cost money, but it's only about $40-50 CAD (including hooking up diagnostic equipment, medications sometimes cost a little extra) and many (if not most) benefits packages cover a significant chunk of that too. If you call in a false alarm, you don't get billed so much as arrested if they believe that you are willfully abusing the service, since they are not so much concerned about the cost of the trip to get you as they are about committing resources that may have been needed in a real emergency. I've even heard of cases where very serious charges have been laid against someone prank calling emergency services where a person died because the ambulance was tied up in responding to the prank call.
  • by EastCoastSurfer ( 310758 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:53AM (#33341320)

    The is the number 1 problem I see while hiking. Most people are completely unprepared with respect to the amount of water needed. I hike 14ers on a regular basis and even though they are generally day hikes I always pack enough food and water that I could spend the night if needed. I hope I never get into a situation where I'm forced to spend the night in the high country with only minimal provisions, but accidents happen and it's best to be prepared.

  • Re:This is wrong. (Score:3, Informative)

    by pspahn ( 1175617 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:56AM (#33341382)

    I also assume your paper map self updates to take into account new routes and new paths.

    Seriously? A good USGS topo is going to be more relevant than your typical Google Maps based GPS. They are cheap (~$8 for one grid), water proof, tear proof, and give you a lot more detail than you will find on a little screen. They are also very easy to update yourself. I scribble all kinds of notes on my maps based on what I actually see when I get somewhere. Not to mention they might save your ass from getting shot from wandering onto private land, as they detail BLM, NFS, NPS, and private land.

  • by Beardo the Bearded ( 321478 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:07AM (#33341554)

    It's $65 and it's for all ambulance calls.

    I got the bill when I booked 2 when my kids were hit by a car. The whole accident required 5 ambulances.

    My friend got the bill when his daughter stopped breathing, and it was still $65 even though they sent a second one with a pediatric specialist to meet the first ambulance halfway.

    The problem was that people were using them for taxi services. "Oh, this is close to the hospital, so I'll use them instead of a taxi."

  • Re:Insurance (Score:3, Informative)

    by IMightB ( 533307 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:09AM (#33341576) Journal

    CORSAR Card $3/year or $12/5 years. Alternately, just purchase a Fishing/Hunting License and you're automatically covered. []

  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:11AM (#33341618)
    Someone has to pay for it. It's just a question of whether those costs should be socialized or not. Even in cases where most of the medical costs are socialized, I can see it being a concern that socializing things like on-site emergency care could really drive up costs for the health system if people feel like they can use them for things that may not be necessary. So you end up having to make rules about what is considered necessary or not, and that is perilous territory. There are bound to be lots of gray areas where the judgment call could go either way. You'd almost have to err on the side of inclusiveness, which would probably lead to higher costs. It would likely have the effect of more lives saved as well, but at a much higher cost to the system overall. So it's going to come down to a political decision that will have to be made by voters. Is it worth it to them to pay the costs?
  • by AnAdventurer ( 1548515 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:16AM (#33341708)
    I have been in wilderness search and rescue and wildland fire for 18 years in 5 states, I have yet to see a bill go out with one exception. Denali National Park; If you climb Denali and need to be rescued you MAY get a bill. I have not worked up there but I know some of the mountaineering rangers and guides.

    In the USA other then some of the resources like helicopters, pilots, law enforcement (rangers), training and grants, much of the rescue work is done by professional, trained volunteers supplying there own gear and time. I have been on many rescue calls for people who made bad decisions and a good number did not make it.

    You look at it like this: You are not doing it for them, you at doing it for their family and friends.

  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:28AM (#33341882)

    I'm a long time back country camper and hiker (meaning I carry my own tent/bag etc on my back). One of my favorite routes in Yosemite is to take a route in which I camp at the base of halfdome and then finish in the valley. The best part is that I don't encounter the crowds until I'm 75% done.

    The last 25% is along the main tail between half-dome and the valley. This passes by the major water falls which people do a simple day hike to. While most people doing a day hike to half dome start at dark, I've seen more than my share of "dumb hikers" who are dressed in jeans/doc martins/sneakers or other non-hiking apparel and in their hand was a bottle of water (the kind you get for a few bucks at the supermarket, not a camelbak and ample supplies). I think they only see the pictures of the cables and forget that it's 14miles miles round trip and 5k feet of elevation gain.

    I've had more than one occasion where some unprepared day hiker has asked me for water/food/help. I had one woman ask me for water and I when I told her that the water that I had in my camelbak was filtered (I have a portable pump/filter) from a local stream, she refused to take it.

    I agree with the article, GPS and electronics haven't made people more stupid, the devices have enabled more stupid people to do things whereby they are critically dependent on the device. I never hike without a paper map. Why? Maps don't need batteries, and still work when wet and dirty.

    On a side note, people that leave food in their cars in Yosemite should not only be fined, but they themselves should be fed to the bears.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:37AM (#33342080)

    For a Robinson, the actual cost to a flight school to fly is typically right around $200/hour all inclusive (insurance, hangar space, etc. etc.) depending on fuel costs... That price includes predicted standard maintenance (engine, transmission and tail rotor transmission TBOs, etc). So, the instructor and flight school split about a hundred bucks.

    Small single turbine choppers like the MD 500 and Bell 206 (both often used by news crews and police departments), aren't all that much more costly to operate. We expected to pay about $350/hr (minus pilot) a few years back for a MD 500. The main benefit is they use cheaper, higher energy density Jet A fuel. For a ~400 HP engine, count on about .5 Gal/minute normal usage.

    Larger single engine choppers (407, Huey) can use up to 1 gal/minute, but the other costs are more or less similar.

    I could see a pretty hefty bill for being rescued by a large twin powerplant rescue aircraft 2-5k for a multi-hour mission wouldn't be unreasonable... But there's simply no way it could be in the $50,000 range unless you count the time used by a hundred search and rescue guys as sometimes happens when stupid people cry wolf.

  • by SuperQ ( 431 ) * on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:54AM (#33342448) Homepage

    Damn, that'd be nice. I pay around 40% of my paycheck between state and federal taxes in the US. I'm sure 10% of my income is paid as health insurance by my employer. The amount of services I get for my nearly similar tax rate is abysmal.

  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @12:00PM (#33342568)

    I was gonna say that's odd, as I had checked into getting my helicopter rating a few years back (already have my PP-ASEL airplane license), and the cost for the helicopter was $295 an hour, but that was in a Robinson R-22 which after researching it is a piston powered helicopter

    I am an engineer with experience in designing equipment for Search and Rescue helicopters. This is just a quick back of the envelope explanation for how the costs can quickly escalate.

    What you were leasing there was likely a helicopter purchased/selected specifically for training and maybe a few other limited duties. All it really had to do was be available when someone needed it for a few hours to get some training. Maintenance on pistons is also MUCH less specialized.

    So then we go to turbines (special equipment, special training, = expensive maintenance). The initial cost is high considering not many people actually purchase helicopters these days.

    But then lets look into the costs of a medical/rescue helicopter.

    Special avionics
    -P25, SAT, HF radios (You are going to have to communicate/coordinate with a variety of agencies)
    -Whatever you use for locating the beacon (Not my area of expertise, but something has to be there)
    -Special collission avoidance or terrain following systems (There is a potential for poor weather, and you don't want a 3 person rescue adding another 5 to be rescued)
    -FLIR (I could see it being very useful, but probably not essential)

    Specialized equipment
    -Hoists/lifts, stretchers, Wide doors
    -Medical equipment
    -Medical supplies

    -Not too many helicopter pilots are trained for rescue
    -Flying EMTs
    -Dangerous duty pay
    -Oncall 24x7

    Air Vehicle
    -Larger body to accomodate the 'flying ambulance'
    -Wide doors for stretchers
    -High capacity to fit aircrew and multiple patients
    -Multi engine (you aren't sending up a single engine helo into mountainous terrain)
    -High altitude capability
    -High reliability necessary
    -24x7 availability

    So your $300/hr rental makes sense. But we can see by this how quickly the costs can quickly escalate to thousands of dollars per hour.

If I have not seen so far it is because I stood in giant's footsteps.