PMR's Position Statement Regarding Mission to Locate 3 Missing Climbers on Mt. Hood and Locator Beacons
December 16, 2009 - Portland Mountain Rescue is in the process of responding to a report of three missing climbers on Oregon's Mt. Hood. It does not appear that these climbers were equipped with any locating beacons (known as Mountain Locator Units, or "MLUs") that might help rescuers locate the climbers.
This news bulletin is being released to address frequent questions posed by the public regarding:
• Why carrying locating beacons should not be mandated
• Why individuals should not be charged for the cost of their rescues
WHY LOCATOR BEACONS SHOULD NOT BE REQUIRED:
PMR supports the OPTIONAL use of locator beacons on Mount Hood. MLUs/PLBs can make it easier to locate lost individuals in some situations and we would prefer that more parties carry them. However, we strongly oppose mandating that beacons be carried because of potential unintended consequences.
Contrary to what might seem common sense, we believe that mandating beacons actually increases risks for both climbers and the rescuers.
1. Devalues safety education – Locating devices are helpful in some specific situations, but are no substitute for skill, preparation, and sound decision-making in the backcountry. Any government mandate to carry these devices overstates their usefulness and creates an unwarranted reliance on technology and devalues the motivation to develop the proper safe traveling skills and planning for unexpected situations, thus leading to more rescues. In fact, following the December 2006 incident on Mount Hood, the ensuing public outcry for climbers to carry beacons contributed to several large rescues on Mount Hood for climbers who were ill-prepared but climbed directly into winter storms. These groups carried locator beacons and expected to be swiftly rescued.
2. More danger for rescuers – Locating devices are not as effective at increasing safety as other mandatory safety devices such as seat belts, motorcycle helmets, or life jackets. More often the biggest challenge in a rescue isn’t locating a stricken climber, it’s accessing them. Weather and avalanche conditions often hamper search efforts even when we know where the subjects are. Any law mandating locating beacons will place volunteer rescuers in more danger by fostering an unrealistic expectation that carrying government-mandated equipment entitles climbers to rescue regardless of unsafe conditions.
3. Delayed rescue calls – Laws requiring safety equipment imply penalties for noncompliance. Search and rescue experts indicate that if penalties exist for stranded or injured hikers/climbers who do not carry the required equipment, they often delay calling for help. This delay results in further danger for the stranded or injured party and the rescuers alike.
Mountain rescue is a highly complex and dynamic issue. It typically accounts for fewer than 5% of search and rescue missions in Oregon yet frequently elicits national media attention and public outcry. PMR believes the best way to improve climber and rescuer safety is to stress personal responsibility, preparation, and sound decision-making. Legislation for mandatory equipment is a well-intentioned but misguided solution with potentially dangerous consequences.
WHY THE PUBLIC SHOULD NOT BE CHARGED FOR THEIR RESCUES:
Often after large rescue operations, there is public outcry to charge the subjects of the rescue to recoup costs.
Existing Oregon law (ORS 401.590) allows a public body to recoup some rescue costs if "reasonable care" was not taken, or if any applicable laws were broken by the subject of the rescue.
However, the search and rescue community unanimously opposes charging for rescues because such charges may cause people to delay making a request for assistance for fear of incurring a fine.
Delaying rescue requests tends to make the situation more dangerous, increasing risks not only for the subject of the rescue, but also for the rescuers. Delayed requests lead to increased risks when the subject's condition deteriorates, the weather worsens, night falls, avalanche hazard increases, and a host of other potential threats.
It is critical to note that the bulk of rescue work is conducted by volunteer organizations who are supported by public donations and not tax dollars. Climber rescues have the highest contribution of volunteers, exceeded only by fixed-wing aircraft searches.
Here on Mt. Hood, the primary burden of rescues to taxpayers resides in funding the county sheriff's oversight of the rescue operation.
Helicopters are provided by the military, who use rescue flight time to fulfill regular training hours requirements that all pilots are required to complete. Pilots would be required to spend these hours in flight training regardless of a mountain rescue, and this rescue flight time provides superior training opportunities than mere training drills where no lives are at stake.
The dozens of rescuers with technical equipment, search dogs, and communications vehicles are all provided by volunteer not-for-profit organizations. Therefore the actual cost of rescues to taxpayers is far less than what is perceived when large rescue operations are broadcast on the news.
Though climbing accidents receive much media attention, statistically they represent only a small percentage of overall search and rescue incidents. In 2008, climbing accidents were 11th on the list of activities resulting in a search and rescue.
Because climbing accidents attract a disproportionate amount of media attention, people are inadvertently led to believe that climbing accidents are unusually costly and present an unfair burden to the tax payer. An examination of the statistics shows that climbing accidents are less frequent than search and rescue incidents resulting from hiking, driving a motor vehicle, hunting, swimming, and snowmobiling.
Portland Mountain Rescue opposes charging any member of the public for rescue services. Furthermore, we believe existing laws must be applied fairly to all groups of recreationalists according to the facts and not public misperception.
Additional statements opposing charging for rescues, published by other search as rescue organizations, can be found on the Mountain Rescue Association's website www.mra.org or by clicking here.
2008 Statistics from the Oregon Emergency Management's 2008 Annual Report:
•Motor Vehicles 119
•Game Hunting 39
•ATV Mission 21
•Other Snow 10
•Mushroom Pickers 9
•Cross Country Ski 6