Never Cry Wolf

June 29, 2016 Posted by: Tucker Chenoweth

A note to InReach and Spot users,

This season, Denali National Park personnel have initiated rescue response for two accidental SOS activations and one deliberate (I-was-just-testing-it) activation of the SOS button.  In addition, the ranger station staff has fielded more phone calls from concerned family members than we can count as a result of users missing a daily “check in”.

The importance of this SOS technology in a true emergency is not in question, however, the time and resources used on avoidable, non-emergency situations is burdensome and not without financial and resource implications.

When the SOS/Help button is activated, it initiates a burst of communication that can fan out exponentially. Numerous people and resources are contacted, mobilized, and ultimately responding to your location.It is appropriate and encouraged to activate these devices in a true emergency, but if activated due to careless handling or unfamiliarity, it comes at a cost.  Rescue personnel and resources will be taken out of circulation and diverted from other true emergencies. (Or even just diverted from a good night’s sleep…)  Depending on the location of the activation, the cost to the tax payer could be sizable.

Day or night for the climbing areas in Denali National Park, the progression goes like this:

  1. The SOS button is activated.
  2. An emergency message is sent to the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) with GPS coordinates and whatever information you have included in your profile.
  3. Next the IERCC contacts the nearest local emergency response agency.For Denali National Park and for all of Alaska’s National Parks, the Alaska Region Communication Center (ARCC) is contacted.
  4. The ARCC calls the South District Ranger-On-Call.
  5. The Ranger-On-Call fields the call, and if they are not physically at the Talkeetna Ranger Station, they drive back to the station.
  6. At this point, field rangers positioned at both the 7,200-foot basecamp and at 14,200-foot camp are alerted. Possibly rangers at 17,200-foot camp if possible.
  7. If the GPS coordinates of the activated device appears to indicate a main camp on Denali, the ranger patrol must contact each tent in an effort to locate the SOS callers.
  8. As this is happening, resources in Talkeetna are called into the ranger station including the helicopter pilot, other aviation resources (manager, mechanic), and other rangers.
  9. The number of people involved continues to expand until the nature of the emergency is identified and resolved.This could involve up to twenty people for a false alarm, and more if actual response to the site of activation is the only way to determine the nature of the incident.


This is a lot of people for an accidentally activated device. Our three broad suggestions for emergency device users:

  • Two-way communication is invaluable in an emergency.  If considering purchasing one of these devices, consider the advantages of two-way communication.If you can text or talk directly to emergency personnel, you can communicate exactly what your emergent needs are. Otherwise, emergency responders do not have all the necessary information to organize the best response. 

  • Get to know your device.  Prior to a trip, it is important for owners of these devices to understand exactly how to set up and properly use their specific unit.  With many modern electronic devices like a flat screen TV, you can fumble through the set-up process without reading the owner’s manual, but unlike your new flat screen, misuse of the InReach or SPOT device has wide reaching implications.  These devices must be handled carefully, set up properly, and the SOS or HELP button must be protected so accidental activation is impossible.

  • Set clear expectations with friends and family about the device’s functionality, i.e., that it will only transmit your text or message if you physically press the transmit button, and sometimes you’ll be too busy or too tired and you will forget. Or the batteries will get too cold or need to be changed out. Or sometimes the data message gets lost in the atmosphere and just doesn’t transmit for some reason. The lack of a daily message will not trigger an NPS rescue response. Only an actual SOS activation will trigger a response.


Last updated: August 18, 2016

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755

Phone:

(907) 683-9532
A ranger is available 9 am - 4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.

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