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Bigtree

Personal Locator From Mt. Hood Thread

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Ok, this was answered in the hood rescue thread as such by Gapper Jeffy and Iain:

No an MLU is not the same as a PLB. The PLB communicates with a networks of satellites and will work anywhere in the world. An MLU sends out a terrestrial signal that can be picked up by an MLU receiver. Googling MLUs, I actually found a post here from PMR Iain describing the differences:

Originally Posted By: "iain in July 2003"

Land-based PLBs are becoming available in the lower 48 states (perhaps specifically the PNW?) after a pilot program in Alaska proved to be successful. They are very similar to the EPIRBs used on ships. Once activated, they are spotted by satellites and a location (if a GPS unit is attached or incorporated, otherwise it uses the frequency to triangulate) is transmitted to Langley, Virginia. They in turn contact local SAR resources to go find the beacon. They have coordinates to find the thing, but the beacon also transmits on the standard ELT freq. long used in aviation to find downed aircraft, so you can find them that way too. They will be pretty expensive for awhile yet. Some SAR groups are starting to train with them now, but I've yet to see one in the Oregon mtn rescue community. The "Mt Hood Locator" is still in use, but it is much more simple, using basically a bear collar system. It still works well, and was in fact used this January to pinpoint a lost group near the summit of Mt. Hood.

 

But, specificially speaking, has anybody bought one of the ACR devices? Seems like pretty interesting tool to pack, albeit expensive, bulky, and somewhat heavy.

Just looking for opinions on the decive (not so much spray on whether or not you would ever be caught dead with one :P ).

 

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My parents had an EPIRB on their extended sail to alaska, bu haven't had experienced beyond that.

 

Any mountain rescue folks care to comment on these or MLU's? Do they make a significant difference in rescue times?

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A friend in New Zealand never travels in the mountains without a PLB. A couple of years ago, someone in his party wrecked their knee in the heart of an alpine wilderness area - minimum 3 day walk out to get help and the weather wasn't looking great. My friend triggered his PLB and a chopper arrived about two hours later. They didn't have an exact location to fly to but once the chopper got close, it was able to home in on the signal. The only (slight) downside was that because the rescuers didn't know what sort of rescue scenario they were heading in to, the chopper was carrying just about every kind of portable medical device known to man plus a rescue team - had they known the actual situation, they would have sent a smaller chopper with just a pilot and medic.

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i bought a sat-phone a couple years ago and was very surprised to find that it doesn't work from within a building, nor from within a forest. it sort of defeated the purpose of bringing it into the woods for emergencies, considering most emergencies would involve mobility problems. Looking for a clearing with a broken leg or other injury didn't figure into my plans when i bought it.

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It looks like the current prices and weights of Sat Phones and PLBs are identical. What would be the advantage of a PLB vs a Sat Phone?

DaveH's story points to the disadvantage of a PLB vs. a sat phone...once you push the button, they assume it is a life or limb kind of thing which means a full out response. A sat phone lets you describe your situation, your location, etc. A lot more contextual. Sat phones can receive calls, which is also helpful in the final stages of the rescue - they can call you with their plan.

 

Of course, the advantage of a PLB is that your rescue call gets to exactly the right place right away - all PLB signals go to national SAR coordinating stations. Unless you have the right tel. #, your sat phone call may get bounced around a lot till it gets to the right agency.

 

I am not sure about signal strength and penetration abilities of PLBs vs. sat phones. Sat phone batteries start losing their charge even if unused after 3 weeks or so, which is a problem on longer trips without solar cells (likely the same with a PLB).

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Thanks for moving this post into its own thread gapertimmy and thanks to Kevin Matlock for clarifying the difference between a MLU and a PLB.

 

While I'm sure both devices have their merits and advocates (e.g., DaveH's friend in New Zealand), neither device strikes me a good value for the money. Moreover, in my opinion, they likely create a false sense of security resulting in some folks potentially getting deeper into the glue. Of course the same could be said about a sat-phone; however, if you are thinking you need this type of back-up then I think a sat-phone is the superior solution by far for given the ability to directly communicate with folks on the "outside". Cost-wise, you certainly don't need to buy one for short trips given that you can rent them for ~ $10/day and $2/min call time. As for reception difficulties under tree cover - not much a concern for back-country ski trips or mountaineering.

Edited by Bigtree

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Any mountain rescue folks care to comment on these or MLU's? Do they make a significant difference in rescue times?

 

My biggest concern would be the lack of any other information. How many people? Injuries? Terrain?

 

Could you not answer these questions until you scouted the area? Would that have to be done by helicopter? (I'm guessing the receivers are not meant to be portable.) What if you couldn't fly?

 

SAR doesn't have the manpower/equipment/money to respond with everything for every time a little button gets pressed. It would be like sending a hook-and-ladder, SWAT team, and Lifelink heli every time 911 got called.

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SAR doesn't have the manpower/equipment/money to respond with everything for every time a little button gets pressed. It would be like sending a hook-and-ladder, SWAT team, and Lifelink heli every time 911 got called.

 

Great point. I wonder if/when these become cheaper and more people have them, at some point you gotta figure the SAR teams would reach a point of "we can't respond to all these calls anymore"... we'll just flood the system. So, one might conclude that there will be some sort of practical life span to this current model of rescue.

 

Am I correct in thinking that using a PLB is "free" without a monthly subscription? I mean, seems like one small advantage over the sat phone is that you don't have to pay the monthly service agreement and/or usage minutes. Anybody know if the only cost incurred with the PLB is simply it's purchase price?

The more I think about it maybe not though... after all, who exactly maintains the list of the beacon signals to their owners? Can't believe someone is simply doing this out of the kindest in their heart.

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these men are hard men.

they like their eggs hard boiled

and their women hard hearted.

they don't wear underwear

they wear hardware

these men are hard to believe

 

(quoted from memory, author unrecalled from some Mountain Gazette from the mid 70's)

 

 

What is all this blather about MLBs? Granted, I've only been climbing for 35 years so I still have a lot to learn, but I've never even heard of these silly things until this most recent missing climbers on Hood issue. Has the market in those "help, I've fallen and can't get up" emergency beacons for elders become so saturated that they've got to try and sell that shit to us also?

 

Battery operated techno widgets are no substitute for skill, knowledge, judgement, and personal responsibility. Push button "help me Mr. Wizard" beacons can only supply a false sense of security to people who shouldn't be there in the first place. We all knew people who died in car accidents or from heart attacks, but no one is advocating for automotive proximity alarms or implanted cholesterol monitors.

 

The decisions we all make every day, whether it's to back up that cam with another piece or to stay on my side of the double yellow line, have a direct impact on whether we live or die. If you're advocating for mandatory MLB's you either stand to profit from the situation or you're advocating a Nanny State that very few people would want to live in.

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I've said it before and maybe it warrants being said again, but electronic gizmos like these can lull one into a false sense of security, heading out when they shouldn't. "Oh we'll be ok because we've got a PLB, Sat phone and MLU."

 

They are no substitute for good judgment, experience and training.

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The reason that few people have heard of PLBs(often called PRLBs) is that they have only been authorised for personal civilian use since about 3 years ago. They work in exactly the same way that an EPIRB does.

When the PLB is activated by the person carrying it, the signal will be picked up by the first civilian or miliary aircraft that flies anywhere over the activated device. It'll ID the victim's location with same level of accuracy as GPS. This then kicks off a process at a federal level.

On some level it's like calling 911 from your house. EMS will respond if they can as soon as they can.

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I've said it before and maybe it warrants being said again, but electronic gizmos like these can lull one into a false sense of security, heading out when they shouldn't. "Oh we'll be ok because we've got a PLB, Sat phone and MLU."

 

They are no substitute for good judgment, experience and training.

 

:tup:

 

I'm sensing too much reliance on electronic doo-hickeys here.

 

That said...

 

If it came down to having one of these or a sat phone, I'd take the sat phone. If you have a sat phone and any back country experience, you're also likely to be smart enough to look up the relevant local emergency numbers before you head out as well as being smart enough to probably have some idea where you are without needing a GPS. Then you have the ability to give SAR teams an approximate location and your status. The PLB's are probably more useful for those who are 'spatially challenged'.

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MLU's? Do they make a significant difference in rescue times?

 

Yes. You are basically wearing a bear tracker. However if these guys had one it's not like a team is going to go charging up cooper spur in a full storm like what was experienced last week. Unfortunately with the sustained nature of that storm, a rescue was essentially impossible.

 

However if the storm passes and you are in an invisible, unmarked snow cave, an MLU would be a good thing to have. It was only climber's intuition that found this latest cave, where someone asked where would I dig in if I was stuck here, and prodded around with an ice axe.

 

I personally do not wear one, nor does anyone I know. There is no denying their functionality, however. On rescues on mt. hood, teams will throw one into a pack as insurance. If you are concerned about it, an MLU will serve its function. If you want to trust your abilities to get yourself out of a whiteout on mt. hood, more power to you. It's a tool that is there if you want it. A cell phone (as has been shown in dramatic fashion here) can also be valuable.

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For those of you who do not want regulation, you might want to go to http://www.katu.com/ and do some damage control on that poll on the front page. Right now 95% are in favor of requiring "personal locators", whatever that means.

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poll is on the far right of the page. though if the powers that be act on the knee jerk of a news webpage poll, then we're in trouble.

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What one needs to remember is that both the MLU and a PLB require an over-due or missing notification.

As Iain said, even with either of these devices SAR can't come get you in a white-out.

Also - since the PLB works much like a GPS it will give a coordinate that may be 30mX30m square. A MLU is a pinpoint find. The MLU is much more accurate in finding someone - even someone buried in the snow.

PLB's also have issues in canyons and dense forest (remember they are basically GPS systems).

Right now, the MLU is the best device to carry, other than common sense and a bit of luck and good skills.

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Man the news guys have been talking to climbers all week, shy could they not get one to tell them what a freaking MLU vs. PLB. Why are not more climbers taking PLB's, maybe cause the are ONLY $600 "like a lot of climbing gear". Good job REI for setting them straight on what an MLU is. I don't know about the rest of the freaking board but I don't have $600 sitting around getting dust on it to go and buy ONE piece of equipment. Heck can you even buy and MLU and don't MLU's only work on Mt. Hood? I have never hear of them being use any place else.

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For those of you who do not want regulation, you might want to go to http://www.katu.com/ and do some damage control on that poll on the front page. Right now 95% are in favor of requiring "personal locators", whatever that means.

 

The U.S. Coast Guard requires all ocean going vessals to carry Emergency Locators that are activated by water.

 

 

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don't MLU's only work on Mt. Hood? I have never hear of them being use any place else.

 

Yup, Hood only. That's what the 'M' stands for. "Mt. Hood", not "mountain".

 

As for the PLB, I think it's borderline criminal that the $600 unit shown above doesn't include an internal GPS receiver. It'll only send out GPS coords if you have a separate GPS that can talk to it.

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Here's a link to a good article regarding MLUs and the events surrounding the passage of Bill 3434 in Oregon a decade ago (I couldn't find a copy of the actual Bill): http://www.i-world.net/oma/news/rescue/athearn.html. Interestingly, the cost liability feature of the legislation seems to only kick in in the event a climber was found (no pun intended) not to be carrying a MLU, cellular phone or a two-way radio. Given the versatility (and limitations) of sat phones, cell phones and two way radios vs. a MLU or PLD, I still don't see a strong case made for purchasing/using an expensive one dimensional MLU or PLD; the exception possibly being where you might be injured and unable to work a phone/radio.

 

 

 

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