victim. One would believe transceiv-ers to be much faster in helping res-cuers pinpoint the victim than ran-dom probing. They would be if the users knew how to efficiently use the devices.
Professionals using transceivers find victims alive 58 percent of the time, or nearly twice as often as recrea-tionists. This would seem to indicate the answer lies not so much with the transceivers but the inefficiency of the average recreationist using the device.
Consider that 90 percent of buried victims found within 15 minutes sur-vive. Studies in the United States and Europe show transceiver users are lethally slow, averaging more than 30 minutes to find and uncover vic-tims. The result was two-thirds of the victims died. I'd bet the number of people who buy beacons and never
Getting to an avalanche victim
is no joke; you gotta
know your stuff
By Miles Blumhardt
Photos by Rich Abrahamson
When avalanche beacons first became available to average recrea-tionists, they were deemed the best thing since the probe pole.
The excitement was akin to yet an-other new cancer drug coming on the market. They were supposed to dra-matically reduce the 28 Americans killed each year by avalanches. But like a lot of those cancer drugs, transceivers have been long on po-tential but short on results.
Despite dramatic improvements in beacons the past few years, the so-bering news is you still stand a better chance (42 percent) being found alive with people spot probing with poles, a method based more on luck than skill, than with recreationist us-ing transceivers (32 percent). How can luck win out over technol-ogy?
It's illogical. Or is it?
The No. 1 factor in avalanche sur-vival is the time it takes to find the SAR Command
Sheriff David A Edmunds Captain Alan Siddoway Sergeant Steve Stokes Commander Don Lafay Vice Commander Lance Livingston
Vice Commander Kory Vernon
Admin Secretary Cindy Lafay Finance Misty Wright Park City Leader Cathie Delewski
Kamas Leader Ron Davis Coalville Leader Clay Francis
Volume 1, Issue 3
Summit County Sheriff
Search and Rescue
look at the manual or take a course is pretty high,'' said Lenny Enloe, who manages Fort Collins Out-door World. "The manuals that come with the beacons are OK for general information but you need to go to a workshop.
"It's like a GPS unit. Most don't even bother trying to figure them out until the day before they're go-ing out, if even then. And just think, knowgo-ing how to use one could mean the difference between life and death.''
You'd think those potentially dire consequences plus the fact they shelled out $300 for the units would add up to learning how to properly use the beacons. But one of the problems concerning the use of transceivers is that the products were mar-keted to be as simple to use as point-and-shoot cameras. However, the unread fine print states otherwise.
Take for instance the introduction in 1998 of the DTS Tracker by Boulder-based Backcountry Ac-cess.
True, the Tracker came far closer than any trans-ceiver before at making avalanche rescue a point-and-shoot affair. But the relative ease with which the average recreationist was supposedly able to find buried victims manifested a false sense of se-curity. The result has been recreationists buying transceivers but not becoming proficient enough to use them in a manner with enough expediency to save lives.
"When you are in an emergency situation, you don't have time to read the directions,'' said Nick Logan, a forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. "Your adrenaline is pumping because your buddy is buried and you have to re-act instinctively. To save them, you have to re-act fast.''
While practice is one key to transceivers living up to their potential, Dale Atkins of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center believes the other is to encourage transceiver manufacturers to make the devices more user friendly. Manufacturers have responded the past couple of years by incor-porating easy-to-read digital readouts that indicate direction and distance to the victim.
However, unlike what it says on the box, it's not a matter of simply pointing the unit and following a
straight line to the victim. The devices lead rescuers to the victim via a flux or induction line. The flux line is not a direct route to the victim but an arcing line that with practice leads rescuers to the victim in far less time than older transceivers. These units also eliminate the time consuming stop-and-go process of traditional gird or tangent searching, which few recreationists every understood. "It takes a lot of practice with ava-lanche beacons to become competent and quick in a search," Atkins wrote in a beacon review. "Since trans-ceivers are not easy to use, people do not enjoy prac-ticing. Frankly, skiers would rather spend time skiing than practicing beacon searches."
Although different studies have sent mixed signals as to which transceivers are the best, many professionals and recreationists regard the Tracker as the most user-friendly unit on the market. An indication of how much faster the Tracker is at finding a victim com-pared to other units was the fact the Tracker was not allowed at the 1999 Colorado Professional Ski Patrol Convention "because it created an unfair advantage." However, at the end of the competition, the Tracker was used to compare times and it easily beat the day's best time using other transceivers.
Since the Tracker came on the market, other manufac-turers have caught up with its user-friendly digitally displayed directional arrows and distance indicators. Though they derive the information differently, the German-made Ortovox M2 and French-made ARVA 9000 both have incorporated visual directional and dis-tance displays.
"My experience is that with a Tracker I can give it to people who have never used a transceiver, show them the fundamentals and they can find a buried beacon,'' said Logan, who uses a Tracker. "They might not be really quick the first time but it's more intuitive than with some other beacons.''
At one time, it was believed that high-frequency trans-ceivers would increase the success of rescues due to the units' longer range. But a number of tests have shown that longer-ranged transceivers do not necessar-ily lead to quicker rescues for all.
In 1999, Ski magazine had 95 people unacquainted with avalanche transceivers test them for ease of use.
September 2nd, Weber County SAR asked for assistance from Summit SAR. To search for an 18 year old Korean National exchange student who was attempting to swim across the lake. After waiting two hours for a CAT to build a road into the dam. The ROV was launched, the victim was discovered and brought to the surface in 27 minutes.
September 11, 2007 Three year old Benji
was camping near Haystack lake with his family. At about 8:30 am his family no-ticed he was missing. They started their own search then hiked out to call for help. SAR was dispatched. There was a great response from SAR and other volunteers. At 3:30 PM he was spotted by SAR mem-ber Paul Miller from the DPS helicopter. He was returned to his mother in good health.
September 11th and 12th . Wasatch County SAR asked for assistance from Summit SAR. To search for a 47 year old fisherman who drowned while trying to retrieve his boat that was swept away by the wind. Summit SAR searched the area near rock cliff with no site of the victim. The victim did surface on the 13th and was recovered by Wasatch County SAR.
One of the more striking results was at least in the hands of novices, transceivers with shorter reception range - the Tracker and ARVA 9000 - were signifi-cantly faster than longer-reception transceivers such as the Ortovox M1 and Ortovox Classic.
What wasn't clear was why. Was it because of search patterns or the sensitivity of the digital bea-cons?
"Long ranges help rescue teams search large areas more quickly, but for recreational users, long range units can even prolong the search," Atkins wrote. "In the United States, the increased range has not im-proved search times or saved more lives. Practice and proficiency are significantly more important than range."
But whether you choose the DTS Tracker, Ortovox M2, ARVA 9000, PIEPS or any other model, Atkins
said there is one signal to be heard loud and clear: "practicing and choosing your friends wisely are the best ways to improve the chances of survival."
No. 1 safety item remains
For a long time, I was a member of an elite group, backcountry skiers, who led the world in avalanche deaths. In the 1980s, there were more deaths among backcountry skiers than among those participating in any other outdoor activity. Today, the new leader in death by avalanche is snowmobilers. Today, snow-mobilers - or snow machiners as they frequently are called - have twice the death rate as the next leading recreational group.
When I was first introduced to snowmobiles they were clumsy, awkward machines - underpowered, overweight and hard to control. They were the an-tithesis of what movement over snow is all about. But today, technology has created some awesome snow machines, they can climb remarkable steeps, and cover a 100 miles of trail in a day. In the old days, a snow machiner had to wait a couple of days after a big snowfall to drive his machine through the powder, and by that time the avalanche danger had subsided.
Today, a snow machine can rip through deep snow and climb hills more than 30 degrees steep. And this ability has brought the snow machiner into direct contact with ideal avalanche terrain. No longer re-stricted to flat trails and firm snow, the modern snow machiner can practice "high-marking", that is, driv-ing his or her machines as high as possible up steep slopes. Not a practice conducive to avalanche avoid-ance.
The rapid increase in snow machiner deaths hasn't gone unnoticed by the industry. Today, snowmobile dealerships in mountainous terrain sell avalanche rescue equipment and know where to find snowmo-bile-friendly avalanche education workshops. But the deaths continue because access to avalanche terrain continues to outstrip avalanche savvy and education. And, unfortunately there is another problem. The weight of a skier, even a skier tumbling through the snow, is nothing compared to the mass of a snow
Here are some tips on using and practicing with avalanche transceivers:
Never use rechargeable batteries! They seem fine, then drop off abruptly.
Change your batteries before they discharge too low-use them in your headlamp for the rest of their life.
Wear your beacon against your body, under your outer lay-ers. Don't carry it in your pack or pocket where it can be torn away from your body.
Make practicing with your unit fun by making up games. Bet your buddy a beer you can find the transceiver he/she hides faster than they can find the transceiver you hide. Don't drink the beer til you get home.
When you practice, hide the transceiver in different posi-tions, such as lying flat or standing up, at varying distances and at different depths. The reason being these situations re-quire slightly different skills to locate the transceiver.
Can't get away to practice your skills, then practice finding the beacons at home or, don't let the boss find out, at the of-fice. Lenny Enloe, manager of Fort Collins Outdoor World, said his employees would hide them around the store.
Using beacons isn't like screwing in a light bulb, you need to read the manual. But because the manual doesn't cover it all, take a class. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center can help with class information. Contact the center at www. caic.state.us, by fax at (303) 499-9618 or by phone at (303) 499-9650.
Beacons don't do much good unless you also have a shovel and probe pole.
Dale Atkins of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center has produced a video: Avalanche Rescue Beacons: A Race Against Time. Using live action and computer animation, this program teaches viewers how to use avalanche beacons, basic search techniques and how to search for someone who is not wearing a beacon
machine and its driver traveling straight uphill at 30 mph. This means the resulting avalanches involving snow machines seem to be bigger than those trig-gered by skiers with a proportionally greater chance of death and injury.
Saturday, in a valley near Anchorage, Alaska, seven snow machiners triggered a giant avalanche that killed two of them. Observers reported the avalanche to be the size of three city blocks by three city blocks. Although the avalanche ran for a mile, there still were blocks of debris up to 40 feet high. Ironi-cally, six of the seven snow machiners carried ava-lanche transceivers and probes. One of the victims was buried nine feet deep, his transceiver still faith-fully sending out its signal. Avalanche safety isn't about technology, it's about common sense.
HOW DID WE GET THAT?
Butch Swensen, Emergency Management
Over the last four years, Summit County has received over 2.8 million dollars in Homeland Security Funds. These funds were used to purchase equipment, train per-sonnel and provide exercises for agencies within Summit County. Funds are allocated in two areas, Law Enforce-ment and State Homeland Security Programs.
Summit County is part of Region II which is made up of Summit, Wasatch, Utah, Tooele and Salt Lake Counties. It has been a benefit to Summit and Wasatch Counties to ride the coat tails of this region. Through the grant proc-ess, the representatives of Region II have gone the extra mile to bring Summit and Wasatch Counties up to a more self sufficient status. This is apparent with the Wa-satch Back Hazardous Material Response Unit now housed in the Park City Fire District. The district also used grant monies to help pay for the training of 24 Technical Level Hazardous Material Personnel. Prior to this program we had to wait for this level of response to come from Salt Lake County.
Another great benefit to Summit County and Northern Utah has been the under water recovery vehicle. Be-tween Summit and Wasatch Counties, we have over 420 bodies of water. Most of these are held back by earthen dams. As a terrorism tool, it is used to look at the water side of these structures in search of explosive devises. Several bodies of water in the Wasatch Back are adjacent to road ways which are susceptible to midnight dumps of discarded hazardous waste or transportation accidents involving hazardous materials vehicles. In both cases, the ROV can be used to identify and investigate the re-lease or spill. This is much safer than putting a diver at risk in a chemical environment.
The benefit of this unit goes beyond its intended use by providing families closure from lost loved ones that have drowned and in some cases never expected to be re-trieved.
It’s important to know that when monies began to flow from Homeland Security, that Region II executive board members set priorities as to how the money was to be spent. Number one was to benefit the Region, number two was to benefit each county and number three was to benefit the single agency. We, as Wasatch Back agen-cies, owe a debt of gratitude to the other members of Re-gion II.
Volume 1, Issue 3
Summit County Search and Rescue
Life Flight Training
S M T W T F S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 S M T W T F S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 S M T W T F S 30 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 JULY 2007 AUGUST 2007 SEPTEMBER 2007 S M T W T F S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 S M T W T F S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 S M T W T F S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 DECEMBER 2007 NOVEMBER 2007 OCTOBER2007
July 11 General Meeting—Urban Search August 8 General Meeting—Canceled August 8 Search—Crystal Lake August 13 ROV Training
August 20 General Meeting—GPS Mapping September 2 Search—Causey Drowning September 10 ROV Training
September 11 Search—Haystack Lake September 11 Search—Jordanelle Drowning September 12 Search— Jordanelle Drowning September 12 General Meeting—Life Flight
October 10 General Meeting November 14 General Meeting December 12 General Meeting
2007 SAR Goals
Train SAR Members to a Sartech2 Certification Level•
Train Members in Wilderness Medicine
Develop a Communications Team
Monthly ROV Team Training
Develop SAR Pre-Plans•
Inventory All SAR Assets•
Complete Personnel Filing
Dispatch 615-3600 SAR INFO 615-3573 Summitcountysar.net
6300 No Silver Creek Rd Park City, Utah 84098
SEARCH and RESCUE OFFICE
24 E 100 No Kamas, Utah 84032
SUMMIT COUNTY SHERIFF SEARCH AND RESCUE
Summit County SAR newsletter is published quarterly January, April, July, October.
To submit any information or pictures contact Scott Price. 435-640-5619. Sprice@co.summit.ut.us Setonphoto@yahoo.com Sheriffs Office N 40 43.263 W 111 28.712 SAR Office N 40 38.688 W 111 16.804