Monday, August 23, 2010

Technology Leads to Visitors in Trouble in National Parks

In the later part of my career I began to see people getting themselves in trouble due to dependence and over confidence on technology. By carrying GPS units, satellite location devices, and cell phones park visitors went beyond the limits of their common sense with the mistaken perception that these devices would ultimately lead to a park ranger saving them from themselves and nature.

Another conflict lies in the individual’s definition of an emergency. When you take a person out of their own neighborhood or comfort zone their ability to identify a true threat or emergency becomes clouded. I constantly had people call my residence in the middle of the night to report what they thought were emergencies. These emergencies could range from true life threatening situations to missing pets, desire for latest weather reports so they could plan an outing, a request to notify them if their wife goes to the hospital to have their baby while they are fishing, they are tired from hiking too far and want a park ranger to pick them up and give them a ride, campers who hear sounds outside their tent at night, people in the dark that need flashlight batteries, or asking me to tell them where they are based on their telephone reception.

The image of technology that viewers see on television add to the overconfidence virus. Park visitors seem to think that park rangers have instant access to the same satellites, computers, equipment, and other technology as they see on shows such as 24.

Now you add this clouded perception to the public availability of technology to call for help and this further contributes to that false confidence of finding their way. More and more people are getting themselves in real danger while the over extended and stretched park ranger staffs finding it more challenging to provide assistance when truly needed.
Exhausted searches and dog after an all nighter looking for lost hikers who kept making panicked calls on their cell phone until the battery finally went dead.

You will find a good article on this topic with more detail in the New York Times dated August 21. Go to the link below to check it out:

To keep yourself out of trouble be realistic about you and your party's capabilities and be well prepared for changes in weather, darkness, a longer stay in the woods then you expect, and be properly dressed.

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