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How To Find Yourself In One Easy Step
October 30, 2008 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Approximately two years ago, James Kim died after he and his family were stranded, snowbound, in their car on the Oregon coast (Previously, previously, and (selflink) previously). But what if he'd had a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)?

PLBs are a subset of emergency locator transmitters, which have been in mandatory use on aircraft since 1973. Somewhat more recently, Mo Nickels posted in 2001 on the COSPAS-SARSAT program. Founded in 1982, it's still going strong twenty-six years later, as you can read in their reports on rescues.

In 2003, PLBs became available for nationwide civilian use: prior to that time, only Alaskans could use them. According to ACR, a major PLB manufacturer, PLB use has exploded since the Kim tragedy in 2006. As of October, 2008, NOAA credits emergency beacons with helping to save almost six thousand people in the US and over twenty-four thousand people worldwide, including 236 people so far this year.

You can rent them, you can buy them, and, most importantly, you can find out how well they work from the gearheads at Equipped.org. Finally, if you already own a PLB, you can register yours with NOAA.
posted by scrump (36 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
If he had a PLB it would have made it a lot simpler to find the body.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:04 AM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


NOAA credits emergency beacons with helping to save almost six thousand people in the US

That is NOT thinning the herd.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:11 AM on October 30, 2008


Reading the story of how they were able to narrow the search area was fascinating. And that, in the end, the family was found by pure chance.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:18 AM on October 30, 2008


The dude could have Cortana deploy one, but it'll be awhile before anyone finds him....years even...
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:23 AM on October 30, 2008


Taking any number of things on that trip probably would have saved him, if they'd have meant he didn't leave the car. Just staying by the car anyway would have saved him. Not going on the trip at all would have saved him.
posted by Artw at 11:26 AM on October 30, 2008


That is NOT thinning the herd.

You're talking about adventurous people with the foresight and planning to obtain, pack in and then use a PLB - and these are the ones you'd cull?

This thinning of the herd? You're doing it wrong. If you feel that strongly about it and you'd really like to thin the herd I might suggest putting cattle guards on a strong, fast car or truck and plowing it into your local McDonald's. Over and over again. For the rest of your life. Good luck at outpacing the birthrate.
posted by loquacious at 11:35 AM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: " NOAA credits emergency beacons with helping to save almost six thousand people in the US

That is NOT thinning the herd.
"

To hell with that. Why should we thin the herd of people who took a personal risk, but also had the foresight and intelligence to bring an emergency system into an environment where even experts can be surprised and overwhelmed in minutes?

Or we could as a species just decide not to ever do anything that someone else hasn't already done and proven safe.
posted by Science! at 11:45 AM on October 30, 2008


Uhh... well now I'm really glad I cut my hot headed four paragraph response short. I also should have previewed on final edit.
posted by Science! at 11:46 AM on October 30, 2008


Approximately two years ago, James Kim died after he and his family were stranded, snowbound, in their car on the Oregon coast (Previously, previously, and (selflink) previously). But what if he'd had decided not to use Google Maps to plan his trip?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:02 PM on October 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I hope they filed a big report.
posted by Artw at 12:09 PM on October 30, 2008


Comparing the James Kid scenario to people who normally use PLBs is just stupid. "Honey, we're going on a drive to Grandma's house - Did you pack the PLB?". Really?
posted by Big_B at 12:14 PM on October 30, 2008


"Honey, we're going on a drive to Grandma's house - Did you pack the PLB?" Really?

Well, I keep an old-school mapping GPS and a small first aid and survival kit in my nerd-purse pretty much all the time, but I'm probably pretty atypical. What, me paranoid? OK, a little. But I also like being able to take off on adventures with no notice and survive comfortably.

A registered PLB is on my wish list. They're really rather small and portable these days. Anyone who regularly drives (or bikes, or walks) in or through wilderness should probably have one - but not as a replacement for outdoor survival skills.
posted by loquacious at 12:26 PM on October 30, 2008


Approximately 162 years ago, the Donner settlement party was forced to cannibalism after it became stranded, snowbound, in a Sierra Nevada pass. But what if Geoge Donner had had a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)?
posted by Iridic at 12:29 PM on October 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


*gasp* You mean they ate each other up?
posted by Artw at 12:36 PM on October 30, 2008


But what if Geoge Donner had had a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)?

Well, seeing as how Cospas-Sarsat wasn't launched until 1979, I imagine they would have burned it for warmth.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:42 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Approximately 162 years ago, the Donner settlement party was forced to cannibalism after it became stranded, snowbound, in a Sierra Nevada pass. But what if they had had a fully functional satellite launch facility?
posted by Artw at 12:56 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


NOAA credits emergency beacons with helping to save almost six thousand people in the US

That is NOT thinning the herd.


Of course not. Those six thousand people demonstrated their fitness with respect to their environment. Natural selection doesn't make allowances for who "should" live, only for who does and does not. Beyond that, there are no rules.

I think your comment betrays a certain misunderstanding of what it means to enter the wilderness, even for a day hike or campground visit: it means you are risking death, no matter how prepared you are. It's not just "stupid" or "foolhardy" people who die out there. This is how serious the wilderness is: if you do not have water for three days, you're dead. If you do not have shelter for even one or two nights, you're also dead, barring extremely temperate weather. Even if you have those things, you will not last more than a few weeks without food. And there are any number of ways in which one or more of these variables might break down, even if you're prepared, the most common ones being severe weather and/or incapacitation due to some sort of injury or illness. In any of these cases, if you cannot leave the wilderness and you cannot summon help, you will die within days, even if you are only a mile from civilization.

That being so, a personal beacon makes sense -- it's essentially a few hundred dollars in exchange for one last 2d6 saving throw against death. If it works, there will be time to thank the machine spirits later.

But what if he'd had decided not to use Google Maps to plan his trip?

You know how Google Maps says "these directions are for planning purposes only"? They mean it. You can't blame Google Maps for this guy's death, especially since it had nothing to do with it -- they had missed their exit and had decided to change the route according to an Oregon State road map they were carrying at the time. And yes, anybody who goes to Grandma's house in deep winter, through areas where snow and ice may be prevalent, would be well-advised to treat that the same as any other trip into the wilderness, including bringing along a PLB if they have one. In fact, it seems rather obvious that the proper place for one's PLB, assuming it isn't currently on one's person, is in the car. It doesn't do any good to leave it at home.

I live in the desert, and I never drive anywhere without water and a bug-out bag with emergency food and survival supplies in it. It costs me next to nothing to keep this stuff in the trunk of the car, and it might mean my life someday.
posted by vorfeed at 1:01 PM on October 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


But what if he'd had decided not to use Google Maps to plan his trip?
Or what if he hadn't ignored the signs saying "seasonal road" and moved boulders and such out of the way to go deeper and deeper into the stormy wilderness?

At least that's how I remember the sad story going.
posted by vsync at 1:03 PM on October 30, 2008


I don't see myself using a PLB anytime soon, but Kim's death did cause some serious changes to the stuff I keep in my car; being in a cold environment like Wisconsin, I'd always kept a supply of hats and gloves, but now I keep boots, chemical hand warmers, food, flashlights, and all manner of other things that might be useful. I approached it from the perspective of; my wife and I are going to be trapped in the car for 24 hours, what do we need?

Interestingly, it takes up less space than you'd expect. One duffel bag jammed in the corner of the trunk more or less holds it all.

It is kind of fun to be the guy at work who can say "Oh yeah, I've got one in the car" when confronted with just about anything. Jumper cables? Check. Heavy duty tow chain? Got it. Communications gear? No problem. Rappelling equipment? Sure. Hard hat? Oh yeah! (These last are particularly funny as I work in an office.)
posted by quin at 1:12 PM on October 30, 2008


Interestingly, it takes up less space than you'd expect. One duffel bag jammed in the corner of the trunk more or less holds it all.

No, no. You can never take it far enough. Nature wants you dead and relies on randomness to accomplish the task. Do yourself a favor and pick up a geiger counter, parachute, zodiac boat, a crossbow, and a couple more carabiners.
posted by Kikkoman at 1:30 PM on October 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


.50 revolver in case of bears...

Actuall thanks for the reminder, Thanksgivings coming up and we should put some water and bits and peices in the car in preparation for the trip to see my wifes folks in Oregon.
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on October 30, 2008


Can we have a "put this thread out of its misery" flag? For now I'll use "other."
posted by peep at 1:37 PM on October 30, 2008


It's pretty shitty to rehash James' tragic story.

I worked with him and would see him and his girls out around the Mission all the time.

The PBE crap could have been a post all of its own. The intro part about James (especially since all of the revelant material was mi) was unnecessarily tabloidy.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:40 PM on October 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


Or what if he turned around and went back to the last reference point of safety he had?
I have some huge cojones myself. And I’m pretty well trained to live outside.
But I know I’m not tougher than, y’know, the Earth.
The solution is not “buy more stuff” it’s “think more carefully.”

Now is it nice to have this stuff? Sure. And it is a good idea too. But so is having an all terrain vehicle.
But I have a 4x4 and people keep mentioning how four wheel drives can lull you into a false sense of security - without mentioning that all these gizmos do too.
Again - they're nice to have (I'll even say vital to have) in addition to, not in place of, priority thinking.

First thing you should think - is this trip necessary? Ok. Is this portion of this trip necessary? Ok. Is this portion necessary - right now?
That alone would have saved his life.
He’d have stopped and waited out the storm in a gas station.

I’ve driven in the arctic, in the wilderness - the most unsafe conditions are where people think they’re safe.
I’ll grant, it’s tough to know what is safe sometimes.
But the absolutely most important thing is not to let fear or panic drive your decisions.

I remember driving through a bad snowstorm and people telling me I should get off the highway. Well, I couldn’t.
I had a 4wd at the time then too, so I could keep going through the wheel ruts in the snow on the highway. It was hard to see, but if you looked at the offramps, many cars spun out onto the shoulders, into the ditches, into each other, etc. They panicked because of the storm and wanted to get off - right now!
Well, you run from the snow ruts into deep snow, of course you lose control of the car. It’s like trying to drive on water.
So I kept’a’goin’
Got off behind a 18 wheel truck into an oasis.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:47 PM on October 30, 2008


(Forgot to mention - I was late for the funeral. Sucked. But kind of nice we didn’t need to have another one)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:48 PM on October 30, 2008


Or what if he hadn't ignored the signs saying "seasonal road" and moved boulders and such out of the way to go deeper and deeper into the stormy wilderness?

To be fair, the gate (with warning sign) that was supposed to have been closed was open, and it wasn't the sort of road they could turn around on. Once they made that initial wrong turn and realized they were in a bad situation, they had no real choice but to either stop where they were, thus trapping themselves anyway, or "go deeper and deeper into the stormy wilderness", hoping to make it through. Looking at this map makes it very clear that this was a mistake any non-local could have made -- slightly veering right instead of left was all it took. I called it a "wrong turn" earlier, but really, it wasn't even a turn, more like choosing the wrong one of two divergent roads.

That said -- yes, they should have either stopped or turned around long before even getting into county roads during this kind of weather... but it's an easy mistake to make, especially if you're not experienced driving in the snow.
posted by vorfeed at 2:00 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, no. You can never take it far enough. Nature wants you dead and relies on randomness to accomplish the task. Do yourself a favor and pick up a geiger counter

You mean this job lot of passive dosimeters I've been keeping in my car aren't enough?
posted by Mike1024 at 3:18 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


You could stick those stress patches all over the car, like in Mythbusters, and that way you'd know if you've had a fatal accident.
posted by Artw at 4:54 PM on October 30, 2008


I think the Kim information is entirely relevant as a lead-in to the PLB information. Their situation is more or less precisely the reason that PLBs were made widely available to the civilian market. And, as they keep coming down in cost, and things like OnStar converge with them, I think it's entirely possible we're headed towards a time when something like a PLB is embedded in phones.

Furthermore, it's patently ridiculous to get worked up about how this is "rehashing" the tragedy when the tragedy was a national news story for months and functions as an object lesson in why you might want to take a PLB with you when you might be getting in over your head. The Kim situation was in no way a private occurrence: there was at the very least a massive expenditure of tax dollars and manpower during the search, and there's a strong case that the public is entitled to know exactly what happened, why it happened, and what could have been done to prevent it.

James Kim and his wife made a profoundly bad decision, and he paid for it with his life. The sheerest luck saved his wife and child. To ask for that to be obscured because he was in all other ways a wonderful person and it's painful to you personally is to miss the point entirely.
posted by scrump at 5:04 PM on October 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


That said -- yes, they should have either stopped or turned around long before even getting into county roads during this kind of weather... but it's an easy mistake to make, especially if you're not experienced driving in the snow.

This is sorta a derail, but like I said back in the original thread, California people are used to hearing of people dying between I-5 and Highway 1, winter storm or no. That's Oregon Trail stuff.
posted by troy at 10:05 PM on October 30, 2008


shit, aren't above.
posted by troy at 10:05 PM on October 30, 2008


Donner, party was ate?

I will never tire of that joke; if you're a restuarant host, say it while people are waiting for their table to open up, it helps to liven things up.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:55 PM on October 30, 2008


It's pretty shitty to rehash James' tragic story.

While we're at it, can we avoid rehashing that tragic 9/11 story again too...
posted by fairmettle at 5:01 AM on October 31, 2008


This is sorta a derail, but like I said back in the original thread, California people aren't used to hearing of people dying between I-5 and Highway 1, winter storm or no. That's Oregon Trail stuff.

And yet someone else died of the same cause in the same area ten years earlier, and another family got stuck there for 17 days (but lived, mostly because they were in an RV with emergency food supplies) in 2006. And that's just one road between I-5 and Highway 1. Other drivers get stuck in the snow on West Oregon roads (and, yes, even die) all the time.

The reason why California people aren't used to hearing of people dying between I-5 and Highway 1 is because most people take highway 42 through there, just as the Kims had originally intended to do. It's not because crossing in the winter via county roads is safe. I'm sure somebody's cousin knows an aunt who does it every other week, uphill both ways, but it's still not wise to be on those kinds of roads in the winter unless you have to be, and when it's storming, not even then.
posted by vorfeed at 7:59 AM on October 31, 2008


(if anyone is still reading) Re: the Kim Family tragedy: New signs have been added to Bear Camp road by the BLM. The signs warn travelers that they "could be stranded and die!"
posted by oneirodynia at 5:52 PM on November 20, 2008


New signs have been added to Bear Camp road by the BLM

You don't often see the triple exclamation mark in public use. I hope it catches on - STOP!!! does sound a lot more urgent.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:07 PM on November 20, 2008


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