Be SMART about using a
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
Satellite Emergency Notification Device (SEND) e.g. “Spot”
during backcountry or wilderness travel.
If you answer “No!’ to “Would I go there without my PLB, “SEND” or cell phone?” then don’t go there
Would you normally do something that might fracture your pelvis, freeze your hands or feet, kill you by
heat stroke, suffocate you under snow, drown you or get you lost for days? If you answer “NO” – then don’t do it relying on a signaling device!
Don’t think “It won’t happen to me – that happens to someone else.” Backcountry and wilderness travelers must know how to:
Prevent an emergency
Always use these devices for the unforeseen – not as a last resort tool to handle what should be foreseen. It is dangerous and irresponsible to think they “allow” going somewhere or doing something you are not prepared or experienced to do.
Carrying an electronic signaling device does not make you safe. No distress beacon or cell phone offers warmth, shelter or first aid. They only make it easier to summon emergency help – after you are injured, lost – or worse. And once rescuers have been notified, weather and terrain conditions may prevent or delay them from reaching or even finding you.
When you activate any emergency signaling device, a full-scale emergency response will begin using local, state and / or national emergency agencies. It is only appropriate when a true emergency exists.
PLBs and SENDs are useful devices that save lives. You should think ahead about when to use one responsibly.
“SEND” – A distress signal transmitter that uses satellites for communication, other than a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon, for individuals), ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter, for aircraft) or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, for boats).
2010 statistics on PLBs in the United States:
- At the end of 2010 there were 75,850 registered PLBs in the United States
- The number of registered PLBs increased by 35.4% in 2009 and 32.2% in 2010.
- The PLB population in the United States is forecast to increase 30% in 2011, 20% in 2012, 12% annually from 2013 to 2015 and 7% annually from 2016 to 2020.
- The registration rate for PLBs in the United States was 80.9%. In comparison, the registration rate for ELTs was 63.5% and 79.6% for EPIRBs
- The false alert rate for PLBs from a system perspective was .77% (The system perspective compares the number of false alerts to the estimated PLB population. The estimated PLB population included both registered and unregistered PLBs)
- The false alert rate for PLBs from a SAR response perspective was 78% (The SAR response perspective compares all PLB alerts to the number of distress alerts)
Steve Roark, NOAA SARSAT Program Analyst