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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 foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:02AM (#33339192) Homepage Journal

    Start charging a fee for services. Set the rates make sure they are known in advance. Outsource to a private company to provide the service (can't have emergency personnel tied up on a catering run). Done and done

  • Not New (Score:5, Interesting)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:12AM (#33339258) Journal
    This is not a new problem. In the area I live, there are plenty of mountains that, while looking outwardly benign, kill a number of people (experienced or not) each year. Because of their proximity to a number of major cities, relatively short hikes to the summit (day trips), and extremely changeable weather (70 F and sunny to zero visibility, freezing temperatures, and gale-force winds in an hour), lots of inexperienced hikers get way in over their heads.

    Their recourse? Not to plan carefully and accordingly. Not to travel with more experienced and better-equipped friends or guides. Not to heed the signs at treeline warning of the numerous weather-related dangers. Not to stick to less dangerous ascents in the region. Not to bag it when the weather turns sour. Nope, just whip out the cellphone and call in a rescue.

    It's one thing if you take a fall due to dumb luck, it's another thing to get soaked, freezing, and lost due to, well, being dumb.

    It did get bad enough that the state legislature passed a law a number of years back that, if you need rescue because you were stupid or inadequately prepared for the hike, you can get charged for the rescue costs. This is typically upwards of a few tens out thousands of dollars.
  • Prospector's Special (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mapkinase ( 958129 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:13AM (#33339260) Homepage Journal

    Situation when rescue could be easily performed (there is technology), but the issue is about the money is a significant plot component in a beloved childhood Robert Sheckley story: []

  • by gremlin_591002 ( 548935 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:22AM (#33339336) Journal
    Ten years ago when I was hiking in Glacier National Park, we heard a whistle. Now back then a whistle was something you used to summon help. My friend and I hurried down the trail looking for whoever was in trouble. It turned out it was a stupid lady with her two small children making sure that the bears were scared away. Nothing has really changed with people, their whistle can just be heard at even greater distances. Park rangers have the ability to issue tickets for this sort of behavior, no reason they shouldn't.
  • Evac Only (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:24AM (#33339356)

    One simple solution is to make it clear that if you activate an emergency beacon or request 911 assistance, you _WILL_ be taken back to park facilities. If you read TFA, you'll see that most of the complaints are regarding people requesting guides or supplies, but not wanting to cut their trip short. (The other accounts are of morons with digital cameras, who are no different than morons with film cameras, and seem to be used simply to fill out the article.)

    In short, one rescue per trip. You can go out, but if we need to come get you, you can't go out again. (Exceptions could be made for animal attacks or physical injuries.)

  • Re:Not New (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:36AM (#33339456)

    The problem is that before, the stupid people with no technology just got themselves killed and nobody heard from them again.

    Now, they call for help and you either have to go help them or accept the fact that you let them die.

  • The problem is.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:50AM (#33339562) Homepage

    We rescue these morons.

    Honestly, Evolution is getting reversed because we save the "stupid" from getting killed. The news covers the death of a moron as "a tragedy" instead of , "and there's at least another idiot we dont have to deal with anymore"

    Our society encourages Stupidity because the risk of death is reduced or removed. Let these idiots die, leave their bodies there as a warning to others.

  • Re:deposit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:59AM (#33339630) Homepage

    Where do you sanely put the limit on that though? If I go for an hour's walk into the forest, lose my footing and sprain my ancle I'm not going anywhere. Oh I might crawl to civilization if no help was coming, but normally I'd call in a rescue. Or people that are only going for a short trip, but lose their direction and start going all wrong? Practically you'd want that kind of insurance almost everywhere you go outside public roads, but the risk would vary greatly.

    And it would really only move the problem to be between would-be abusers and the insurance company. I'd give people quite a bit benefit of the doubt, if people are afraid to call the emergency services because they're worried it won't be emergency "enough" then lives could be lost. Insurance companies looking for a profit are likely to swing too far in that direction, covering as little as possible and with as few and minimally trained people as possible if you do call on them.

    I actually in this case think it makes more sense with fines, ranging from none to full cost coverage depending on how much of an idiot they've been. I'd leave the punitative damages out of it though, unless you were really making prank calls or things like that.

  • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:11AM (#33339752) Homepage
    Ambulance companies often offer "subscriptions" that allow you to avoid these bills. In the case of my local company, it's something like $50/year. So to turn it around... you never bothered to get involved with your local emergency services until YOU needed help, and now you want to whine because you expect all of your neighbors to pick up the tab?
  • Re:EASY button. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wh15per ( 1526101 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:18AM (#33339840)
    Agreed. You don't get to call 911 three times for bullshart reasons around here. You call 911 and it's not an emergency, you get a nice citation. Second time, you get arrested. We do not have the time, nor financial robustness to deal with people pranking the system. Keep in mind these people were not just calling the rangers for a ride or because they had a question. They were utilizing their emergency transponders, which are the equivlent of dialing "911" in the forest.
  • by websitebroke ( 996163 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:21AM (#33339878)
    Seriously. By frivolously calling because your water tastes bad, you're potentially drawing rescue personnel away from a real rescue. Somebody could _die_ either rescuing your sorry ass, or somebody in a real emergency could die because the rescue crews were dealing with you. Maybe a few days in jail would help you think about it.
  • by leroybrown ( 136516 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:25AM (#33339924) Homepage

    During a grand canyon in 2002 I was chatting with a NPS ranger during a rest and he mentioned that a helicopter evacuation cost $3,500. He said the biggest problem were guys in their twenties who thought they could hike from the south rim to the river and back up in 1 day in July with just a Nalgene bottle of water.

  • Re:Insurance (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:46AM (#33340144)

    It sort of works that way now. The problem is in an emergency, they will try to rescue someone and minutes and seconds can matter... They can't check to see if waivers were signed, they can't check bank accounts to see if the funds are ready, they have to go save somebody. It's not unusual to spend $250k rescuing someone and then you find out that it's not recoverable or you can only get $50k back and they are financially ruined and possibly left with a substantial and long lasting injury which possibly prevents them from making more money. What do you do then?

    About 20 years ago I went backpacking in Alaska and took a couple training classes prior and one bear class was particularly effective, they showed gory actual footage of what bears do, you can't out run them, you can't fight them, it's simple: avoid conflict with them or you will most likely die and they will eat you. It was awesome in a way, it drilled the point home, made it clear, everyone in our group new better than to get near bears.. Education is key. Maybe they shouldn't let you loose in Yellowstone without a 45 minute seminar or something, people wouldn't like it but it would help. You could put it in the public schools, city folks will have a harder time with it, say it's a waste of time...

    The other thing that's worth raising is that the costs of these rescues isn't reflective of the actual cost that often. In Colorado a lot of the mountain rescue groups are staffed mostly with volunteers, it's actually a pretty elite thing to be part of, they usually have more people wanting to be involved than they need and they attract some of the best because the volunteers want to be recognized as being that good. They aren't paying professional climbers do rescue people. Helicopter fuel and ambulance trips aren't that expensive either.. It's partially a side effect of how the accounting works. They have "rescue and emergency" budgets which are under funded they divide the annual budget up by the rescues performed and then they account of the under funding and end up with a figure like $250k for 50 volunteers, 10 paid professionals and 8 hours of helicopter fuel (and then a crap ton of media coverage...) It makes for better news and you can victimize the victim when they did it to themselves which is probably more often than not by saying we spent half a million dollars saving some idiot.

  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @09:49AM (#33340186)

    A "cheap", single turbine news copter can easily cost $1000/hr to operate.

    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.

    If $1000/hr is right for the turbine's, I'm glad I didn't pursue it. I couldn't have afforded to fly even if I got the ticket. You can find a small airplane to rent almost anywhere for $75-100/hr . . .

  • by Abstrackt ( 609015 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:13AM (#33340560)

    My brother shared some stories from his practicum as a paramedic once, it turns out they have to respond to every call because it might be a real emergency. Unfortunately, in the town he was in this led to some people outside of town using the ambulance as a taxi. The person would get picked up and despite the fact that there was nothing wrong they'd have to be delivered to the emergency room. Once they got there, the person would simply wander off into town.

    The paramedics mentoring my brother decided to use this as a learning opportunity for him when they picked up the most famous of these characters. "Gee, he looks a little dehydrated, we'd better give him a drip." So my brother got to practice giving people IVs. What was interesting though, was when they started treating it like a real emergency (read: uncomfortable till the end) people stopped taking advantage of it because it was no longer easy.

    I don't think you need to let these people die on the mountains, just make the help a little less easy on them so they think twice before wasting your time.

  • by WildFire42 ( 262051 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:13AM (#33340568) Homepage

    Actually, the NPS has dealt with this before. A lot. For a series of examples of REALLY stupid people, go check out Death in Yellowstone. Here's the oblig Amazon link: []

    My wife picked this up when we were there on our Honeymoon (there, Grand Teton, and RMNP). There are countless examples of reeeeeally stupid people. The lady who fed a black bear and got her t*ts ripped off when the bear used her as an accidental scratching post? Check. The guy who jumped into the boiling hot geothermal pool to save his dog and his skin fell off after he got out? Check. The countless people who go hiking through grizzly country, forget to wear bear bells, don't take pepper spray with them, don't walk and talk loudly with a partner, and keep their smelly food in an unsealed cooler inside their tent not only get themselves et, but get bears killed too, whose only crime was responding to instinct (okay, okay... there are plenty of examples of bears gone wild who attacked when people did everything right, and just have to be put down).

    Accidents happen, and the tech is there for a reason. There are also plenty of cases where natural selection does its job. The NPS isn't going to stop every case of natural selection, simply because it can't. They'll try, because the park rangers do NOT want anyone to die on their watch. They deal with stupidity a lot, but they're not going to let someone die just because they didn't know what they were doing. It's exasperating to them, I'm sure, but they are dedicated to saving lives and preventing injuries.

  • by GooberToo ( 74388 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:17AM (#33340634)

    Ya, that's why I stressed "turbine", and further qualified with something like a news copter. There actually are some cheaper turbines to fly but their endurance and useful load isn't really applicable to this type of work and from what I understand, are not really common outside a select few countries in Europe. They likely lack FAA certification too.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:48AM (#33341216)
    How many times in the past had someone said "Damn, I wish there was a way to call for help out here" when they're stranded in the wilderness? Now that we have Sat phones, they _can_ call. Sure, there might be a few more people venturing places they shouldn't because they think the phone is an Aegis, but if they're in over their heads, it's your job to help them, Ranger. You don't just get to contemplate your navel in a watch tower. Every new electronic device we add to our lives gives us a new way to burn our houses down, but you don't hear Firemen whining.
  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <> on Monday August 23, 2010 @10:53AM (#33341318)

    I don't think the grief part of his argument held any kind of water -- but the argument that getting medical care for the child was legally necessary did -- not necessarily with respect to the appropriate course of action under present circumstances, but certainly with respect to the fundamental fairness of the laws currently in place.

    If you're going to mandate that someone take an action or have criminal charges drawn up against them, and that action incurs charges sufficient to bankrupt a substantial subset of the population, you've just made a lot of people into criminals or paupers. I don't intend to make any arguments regarding the morality of individual decisions made within this framework, but find it plain on its face that the framework itself is undesirable in the extreme. (Could he have driven the child to the hospital himself and avoided criminal charges if the baby were DOA? I'm guessing so, and admit that this weakens the supporting argument above. Not that the hospital bill would have been free either, so to an extent the same argument applies).

    Does the above mean that I'm morally fine with relaxing the legal requirement that parents ensure that their children receive emergency medical care when necessary? As long as medical care remains so expensive as to remain a potentially bankruptcy-inducing cost, yes, absolutely. If someone should be forced to put the rest of their family out on the street because of last-ditch attempts to save a child, when sober consideration of their family's overall best interests would have resulted in following a different course of action, that person has been done a grave injustice.

    A third alternative to this, which prevents putting folks out on the street, is giving medical bills reduced priority. This is what has traditionally been done -- letting people get on with their lives (and remain able to pass a credit check to get rent an apartment, for instance) despite medical bills they aren't able to pay. The approach has its benefits -- it doesn't put families out on the street, it encourages medically necessary treatment to be sought and accepted -- though of course there are drawbacks (medical bills for everyone being inflated to cover the costs of those who can't or don't pay). I'm fine with this one, too; are you saying that you aren't?

  • Let them Die (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bussdriver ( 620565 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:48AM (#33342310)

    We didn't get from some stupid ape-like creatures to where we are today by putting great effort into saving the stupid so they can reproduce. If you believe science has the best answers on where we come from then you can't deny that the smart reproducing in larger numbers was important and should to some degree be respected today. As opposed to the other extreme where we save everybody from themselves to the point where a terminally ill person can't pull their own plug.

    If people DIE from doing stupid things then others hear about it and become more careful; those that do not have the "common sense" end up dead either way.

    Perhaps the impact of such social policies are becoming noticeable in that common sense seems less common today?? (or maybe just in the media where these people get too much airtime. Stupid seems to be more entertaining... and to be informative is less profitable.)

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @03:46PM (#33346126) Journal

    You mean Canadians don't pay healthcare taxes?

    They do, and they still pay less than Americans pay for their private insurance plan, on average.

    Better yet, I'm not even a citizen or a permanent resident in Canada, just a temporary worker, and yet - since I'm residing in the country for over 6 months, and was paying taxes all that time - I have coverage should I ever need it. This is not the case for temporary workers in US - they still pay the related taxes in full, but don't see a single cent of it spent on their needs.

  • Re:Insurance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @08:06PM (#33349214)
    You get in trouble hiking with a bear gun. Not that it's illegal, but that it indicates an intention to commit an illegal act (hunting without a permit). And it's heavy. Some hikers have a handgun on a holster on their backpack, but it really isn't that good against a bear. A bear charging will not be stopped by a handgun, no matter what caliber (unless you manage something like a shot in the eye of a running bear - good luck with that). But a gun would help if the bear was thinking about charging, in which case you could probably have avoided him without a firearm. Ever see video footage of someone using bear-spray against a bear? The bear turns and begins to run between the time the sound of the spray gets there and the spray itself gets there. You could load it with chocolate and it would still be effective. If they are looking at you, you are fine as long as you aren't stupid. If they are charging you full-speed, you are likely dead unless you have a rifle ready to go and the nerves to make a really good shot with your imminent death being less than 10 seconds away.
  • Re:Insurance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zak3056 ( 69287 ) on Monday August 23, 2010 @11:25PM (#33350484) Journal

    A bear charging will not be stopped by a handgun, no matter what caliber (unless you manage something like a shot in the eye of a running bear - good luck with that).

    This is pretty much what rounds like the .454 Casull and .50S&W were made for. I know a few people who have (legally) hunted bear with a pistol (or even bow... no way in hell I'd be that brave^H^H^H^H^H stupid) and while that's a far cry from being charged by one, even a charging mass of teeth and claws is going to lose to 400 grains of lead moving at 1600fps. This assumes that you can actually hit your target, of course--I imagine the warm, wet sensation from both the front and seat of your pants may be slightly distracting. :)

    Note, as you state above (and as I noted in my original post) I agree that avoiding the things is a much, much better idea than shooting at one.

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