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Thread: Important information concerning depending on SPOT for rescue

  1. #1
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    Important information concerning depending on SPOT for rescue

    As some may be aware (if not, review trip report at www.BeemerBob.com), I had used my SPOT tracking device to summon for emergency help. It took longer than I would have expected to be located. After some research, I felt it was important to pass some of this information along.

    Granted I was in a remote area, but I was in the United States (New Mexico, about 35 miles north of Grants). I was not down in some ditch or on a goat path in the middle of a forest. It took a over 19 hours for me to be located. I had only injured ribs so my situation was not life treating, so I am addressing this more from a ÔÇ£what ifÔÇØ type scenario. What if I had been bleeding or needed immediate medical attention? If that had been the situation, I fear that I may not have been here to write this.

    What lessons can be learned from my experience that may minimize the risk for a life threatening emergency in a remote area. Did the SPOT fail or is the SPOT of minimal use. Are the risks of solo riding in remote areas greater then we may have thought?

    In my case, the SPOT did not fail and did what it was supposed to do. The delay was caused by some other circumstances that we all need to be aware of before we head out on our next adventure. The SPOT, as stated, did what it was supposed to do, but yet if you are depending of the SPOT for your rescue, you may be disappointed (or dead). I strongly recommend that everyone that travels should carry a SPOT with them. It is extremely useful, but not a magic button and donÔÇÖt let it lull you into a false sense of security

    For some background, SPOT rescue operations are handled by a company called GEOS International Emergency Response Center (IERC). If the 911/SOS button is pressed, The SPOT folks do not even see it, that message goes directly to IERC. IERCÔÇÖs job is to contact the appropriate officials and coordinate the rescue operation. After I returned home, I was able to talk with the IERC person that handled my case.

    I will now attempt to describe some of the other circumstances.

    Accuracy of the Spot?
    In my situation, the coordinates that my SPOT had transmitted were: 35.55553, -107.50142. If you take those cords and input them to Google Maps. Switch to satellite imagery and zoom in, you will see the road CR-19 with the map marker right by the beginning of a ravine. It was surprising how accurate that was. That is exactly where I was. I recognize that ravine and I spent a considerable time laying/sitting right next to it. So what was the cause of the delay? Why the difficulty in finding me if the SPOT location is accurate? Some of the contributing factors follow.
    Acceptance of responsibility / jurisdiction and inadequately trained personnel.
    There was some dispute between counties as to whose jurisdiction I was in and who had to fool with me or was I on Indian Reservation Land and it was their problem. The first dispatch office contacted did not even know how to input GPS coordinates into Google Maps. One county agreed to send someone out to search for me. He (or they) returned later that afternoon and reported that I was not at that location. IERC informed them that I was still sending help messages from the same location, so they therefore did not go to the right location. IERC gave them not only GPS coordinates but road intersection information. On CR-19 south of Indian Route 728 and persuaded them to go try again. They claimed they went out again, but returned with the same report that I was not at that location. Oh by the way. On the second or third attempt the sheriff deputy reported that they brought a small hand held GPS. What! You mean they had been attempting to find my GPS coordinates without a GPS! IsnÔÇÖt that scary? And they reported that I was not at that location. How would they know?

    By morning IERC had lost faith in the local sheriffÔÇÖs office and elevated my recovery to the New Mexico State Police.

    Around mid morning, the state police dispatched a helicopter assuming that I must be someplace where I could not be seen from the ground. The helicopter went to the GPS coordinates provided and guess what? There I was. He marked my location by circling above (I wish I had gotten a picture, it was cool). Then came a state cruiser followed by an entourage (the Cavalry). Some folks loaded my bike in their truck and I rode back in with the trouper (do they call them troupers in NM?). Anyway, it was interesting that the trouper did not have a working GPS and was only using Google maps he had printed out.

    Two lessons to take away from this.
    1. Just because we may carry a SPOT and modern GPS equipment does not mean that those we would rely on for our recovery do. In some smaller counties, the cost of a GPS may not be in their budget. If they do have a GPS it may be a cheap old unit.
    2. What importance do local authorities pay to some outside person crazy enough to ride/hike, etc. in remote areas? IÔÇÖm not a local; I donÔÇÖt vote or contribute to this locality. How do they feel about an outsider drawing on what may be very limited resources? IÔÇÖm not saying that such a felling is right, but I do understand it and suspect that could have played a role.
    Not all GPS coordinates are created equal
    A GPS coordinate is a GPS coordinate, right? Not so! This I just recently became aware of and this issue may have played a very significant part in the delay. My understanding is very limited so I may misstate some details, but let me attempt to explain. First off there is this thing called a GPS datum. A GPS datum is a set of reference points on the Earth's surface against which position measurements are made, one could think of the datum as a map set. If two GPS systems are utilizing different datum (map set), they may represent the same location differently. Unless your GPS is very old this should not make a significant difference, but it would be a little off. The most common datum in use currently is something called WGS84. That is the datum SPOT uses, so if your GPS is not set to use WGS84 datum, you may be off a little bit.

    A more significant difference is the coordinate format. Is your device using decimal format or the degree, minutes, seconds format or do you even know? I didnÔÇÖt.

    The Spot tracker gives the numbers in degrees and decimal portions of degrees, while your GPS may be in a format reads degrees, minutes, and decimal portions of minutes. There are 60 minutes in a degree, so if your GPS were to read 35' 30" (35 degrees and 30 minutes), on a reading from the Spot it would show up as 35.5000 degrees. And the difference can be significant. Were those looking for me aware of the difference? I doubt it. I had never thought about it. If I were to enter my location into something that was expecting degree format my coordinates would have been accepted as 35 55.553, -107 50.142 and that location would have been about 50 miles from my actual location of 35.55553, -107.50142.

    I have a Garmin Zumo and by default it was set for coordinates to be in degree, minute, seconds format and not decimal format. Somewhere deep in you GPS settings, you have the option to set format and datum. It is very important that you change your setting to be WGS84 datum and decimal format. You may need to find someone and you need to be singing from the same song sheet.

    Based on my event, there was a post made on ADV rider that you change your non-emergency SPOT help message to read something like:
    ÔÇ£'This is a HELP message. It is not serious. My location is shown in decimal degrees WGS84 datum. Set GPS same.' As far as the emergency button, you donÔÇÖt have any control of the message, you just hope that the receiving officials have better training then the ones in McKinley County, New Mexico.

    Other suggestions for your SPOT device.
    For non-emergency button you have the ability to specify the receivers of the message, so make sure there are folks on your receiver list that are familiar with websites such as ADV rider or Two Wheeled Texas. With the failure of the local first responders, I was also periodically sending my custom non-emergency help buttons. I also had it set up to post that entry to my blog as well as folks on my receiver list. This caused folks to make posts to TWT and ADV with my brother, Hap, posting updated information he had from IERC. Before the day was out, about 400 fellow riders where monitoring the progress and these in the area were preparing load up and come find me. It was two riders out of Albuquerque that loaded up and came to search for me. The ÔÇ£brotherhoodÔÇØ of fellow riders is awesome. While the state helicopter did find me, I now have far more faith in fellow riders coming to assist then I do local authorities. The only delay in them not coming the previous day was that they were under the impression that local authorities had already been dispatched and surely they could find me because they had my exact GPS coordinates.

    Also be aware that while the SPOT did allow me to send a non-emergency message, all other messages are ignored if there is an active 911 call. I had attempted to send a signal for roadside assistance. Frankly at that point, it would have been just fine to ride out with a tow truck, pack mule ÔÇô ANYTHING. My roadside assistance call was ignored because I still had an active 911. I had thought that if I simply turned the SPOT device off and then turn it back on again, that would cancel the 911 call. Not so. The only way that a 911 call can be canceled is to hold the 911 button down for 10 seconds until it starts to blink red. Then it takes up to 15 minutes for satellites to be acquired before the message is send. The 911 call has not been canceled until the red light stops blinking. At that point, you can do other tasks such as signal for roadside assistance.

    I guess I am now an ÔÇ£expertÔÇØ on SPOT, so if anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me.

  2. #2
    Back in the Saddle mcmxcivrs's Avatar
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    Very good information to keep in mind for those of us who travel in the back country.

    I too use a SPOT for security and peace of mind while travelling alone. It is a great piece of equipment, but I'm well aware it is not a replacement for good decision making and good preperation for the type of riding and terrain you plan to get into. My degree of risk tolerance while alone in remote areas is fairly conservative. I don't try things that have iffy outcomes or serious consequences. Still, I realise that sometimes things go sideways unexpectedly even under the greatest degree of caution.

    It is unfortunate that in the end it comes down to relying upon the abilities of people who may or may not take the signal seriously and may or may not have a good grasp of the skills they should have to do the job they are paid to do. I'm glad that your story had a positive outcome.
    Ed Miller, Calgary, AB
    2008 K1200GT, 2009 F800GS
    I can't wait to retire and have a fixed income. The one I have now is always broke.

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    Registered User stkmkt1's Avatar
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    Wow! Thanks for this information. I have not yet purchased a Spot, but will likely do so in the next year. Very useful information that helps explain some questions I have had. Can anyone provide any first-hand experience using the non-subscription type devices?
    '09 BMW 1200 GSA, 2013 BMW 700GS, 2000 Goldwing SE, '09' V Star 950, '09 Honda Rebel,
    '77 Honda 750A. Holding at six til I get new garage built - need more room for more bikes!

  4. #4
    Touring Panpsychist Theo's Avatar
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    Very important information presented here! I really appreciate your time in researching and documenting the information.

    Hurricane Katrina is an interesting (though off-track) parallel...we knew where it was, when and where it was going to hit, and what the aftermath was...but we still couldn't come to the aid of the people in the right time! It's all about lines of responsibility and the preparedness of the infrastructure.

    Just thinking here...

    What about the MOA establishing a list of volunteers by geographic area who would be willing to monitor/respond to SPOT messaging? One could add these regional recipients to their SPOT settings when traveling in their area. If these folks couldn't actually GET to the rider, at least they could help coordinate/monitor response. Preferably, these folks would be FA/CPR certified and be able to be dual sport mobile. Kinda like an enhancement to the Anonymous Book listings or something...
    Theo

    2009 R1200RT, 2007 Shadow Aero 750 (sold)
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  5. #5
    Back in the Saddle mcmxcivrs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by THEO View Post
    What about the MOA establishing a list of volunteers by geographic area who would be willing to monitor/respond to SPOT messaging? One could add these regional recipients to their SPOT settings when traveling in their area. If these folks couldn't actually GET to the rider, at least they could help coordinate/monitor response. Preferably, these folks would be FA/CPR certified and be able to be dual sport mobile. Kinda like an enhancement to the Anonymous Book listings or something...
    That's an interesting idea. Having the ability to signal a local even if just for some roadside help would be useful. The difficulty thoguh would be constantly updating ones SPOT account settings to send the messages to the correct area/person. That would require having some means to connect to the internet at frequent intervals to make the changes. It would be impractical to add a long list of contacts for an entire trip. An of course this would only work through the help message not the 911 option since that one is handled directly through the SPOT system as Beemer Bob has outlined.

    Perhaps a simpler way to manage this would be to leave a copy of the Anonymous Book in the hands of the person you send your Help message to so they could use it to locate someone in the area you are in. Since we all only get a single copy, it would either have to be an old copy (assuming the latest one is travelling with you), or the person would have to be a fellow member with a current copy of their own to reference.
    Ed Miller, Calgary, AB
    2008 K1200GT, 2009 F800GS
    I can't wait to retire and have a fixed income. The one I have now is always broke.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MCMXCIVRS View Post
    Perhaps a simpler way to manage this would be to leave a copy of the Anonymous Book in the hands of the person you send your Help message to so they could use it to locate someone in the area you are in. Since we all only get a single copy, it would either have to be an old copy (assuming the latest one is travelling with you), or the person would have to be a fellow member with a current copy of their own to reference.
    Perhaps an on-line version of the Anonymous book would be handy. My brother, also MOA member was reluctant to use the anonymous and felt more comfortable with TWT and ADV rider. Why? Well he got burnt on the anonymous list once and somewhat lost faith in it. When returning from the Top of the Rockies rally and a little ways out of Paonia, CO he hit a deer and caused great damage to his bike and scared the s**t out of him, he called a local MOA Anonymous member in the area that listed they had the ability to tow a bike. He was told by that person "gee, seems like you outa just call the country sheriff"

    Yes I know this is way off topic. But PLEASE folks, if you are not capable or willing to provide assistance, that's fine, BUT do not list in the Anonymous book. ÔÇô End of rant.

    Now back on topic. The folks from ADV that came to get me would not even let me put gas in their trucks, buy them lunch, accepts a gift, Nutin! They only would accept my promise to "pay it forward". While I live in Central Texas, the likelihood of a fellow rider needing help in the wilds of flat, populated Central Texas is slim, so I am searching for ways to pay it forward. I like the idea of a central web site that folks on my SPOT list could go to find help for a rider in need. Problem is, I donÔÇÖt have a clue how to set up such a thing and would need help. I am willing to host such a site if anyone with more web knowledge then I could help.

  7. #7
    Registered User widebmw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beemer Bob View Post
    I like the idea of a central web site that folks on my SPOT list could go to find help for a rider in need. Problem is, I donÔÇÖt have a clue how to set up such a thing and would need help. I am willing to host such a site if anyone with more web knowledge then I could help.
    That is a grest idea. But I don't know how it would be done.

    I had three people on my SPOT list, two of them were on a ride with me and the other was on vacation in Utah.

    If I had pushed the Help button no one would have been home.

    Imagine this. A BMWMOA SPOT call center staffed 24-7-365.

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    spot is probably necessary

    I had a problem with my bike last week and relied on some wonderful members in Virginia. Luckily I was able to call them from the highway but while staying at their place a few miles away I found my Canadian cell phone would not work. Next time I do the secondary roads in the States I'll have to be sure my cell will work or upgrade to one that will, or get the Spot unit.
    By the way, after my experience I can only stress that the fellowship does involve commitment to help other riders and I second the comment above about those who won't. I'll be there for the next guy!
    One only has to be helped once, in a time of need, to fully appreciate a wonderful system like this. It's really like having a huge extended family. My fellow riders on other brands were astounded at the way I was helped by a stranger so far from home after a simple phone call.

  9. #9
    Touring Panpsychist Theo's Avatar
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    Initial SPOTLink-BMWMOA Vision

    So here's my contribution to the blue-sky thinking about how an automated SPOT to MOA members alert system might work. (Please understand that the devil is in the details and I am not a very SPOT-knowlegable person.)

    Activation

    SPOTLink-BMWMOA alerts would be sent from the "Help" button. The central SPOTLink-BMWMOA SMS/email address would need to be programmed as one of the contact addresses.


    The HELP Message

    To allow the central SPOTlink services to process the non-emergency help request, the message would need to have the text "SPOTLinkHelp" (or whatever the keyword would be), your BMWMOA number, and the automatically sent GPS (WGS84) coordinates.


    HELP Message Processing

    The central processes would (programatically) be monitoring all incoming messages for the "SPOTLinkHelp" keyword. If found in a message, the process would verify the BMWMOA number and retrieve the member's information. Then, the process would lookup the contact info for all (opted-in) BMWMOA responders within a 30-mile (or whatever) radius. The responders would then be contacted via SMS/email with a message containing the original HELP message (with GPS coordinates), a link to Google Maps showing the location of the SPOT, and the names and phone numbers of the other responders who have been contacted.


    Further Thoughts...

    1) I am sure that the software needed to process the SPOT HELP message would be pretty easy to write, but the potential problem would be the access to the BMWMOA database(s) necessary for gathering and sending the member's and responders' information.

    2) BMWMOA would have to be a very close, trusted, and extremely secure partner in the technological effort. In fact, it might be good to get BMWMOA's IT gurus plugged into this thing ASAP if pursuing this route is desired.

    3) Having retired from the IT corporate world after 26+ years, I know people would can create all the software. I'm sure other members could connect us with servers and bandwidth.

    4) The more minds we have contributing to this idea (if feasible) the better. Please post your blue-sky thoughts.

    5) Perhaps these posts should be put in a separate thread for ease in searching??? I feel bad about hijacking Beemer Bob's thread!

    Theo
    Theo

    2009 R1200RT, 2007 Shadow Aero 750 (sold)
    2012 MINI Countryman S, 2004 MINI Cooper S JCW, 2000 BMW 328i

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    [QUOTE=THEO;613535
    5) Perhaps these posts should be put in a separate thread for ease in searching??? I feel bad about hijacking Beemer Bob's thread!

    Theo[/QUOTE]

    Not at all. The purpose of my post was twofold. One to inform folks that SPOT may not be the magic button their advertising promotes.

    Second, it to try to find a way to solve some of these problems.

    You are one the right track, Theo. - keep blue skying.

  11. #11
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    Lets start with something simple and build on it.

    The SPOT help message space is very limited. We need to be able to tell folks to use datum WGS84 and to set their GPS to decimal format. It would also be good to tell them the phone number of your roadside assitance, policy number, etc.
    There is all kind of information that we want those on our distribution list to know, but not enough space.

    On another fourm, someone showed me an example of what they do. This is his help message.

    "This is 'your name', I need some help. It's not an emergency. See http://ridetoeat.com/helpexample for more info."

    If you 'click' on that website, that would give the us the ability to provide lots of information. If we could get MOA to put te anomous

  12. #12
    RK Ryder
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    Quote Originally Posted by sgrimson View Post
    I had a problem with my bike last week and relied on some wonderful members in Virginia. Luckily I was able to call them from the highway but while staying at their place a few miles away I found my Canadian cell phone would not work.
    It is for this reason that I carry an inexpensive American cell phone when travelling in the U.S. It is also an inexpensive means for calling home.
    Paul
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  13. #13
    Curmudgeon in training alzyck's Avatar
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    Lot's of good ideas about the SPOT.

    Just a thought. SPOT's are good, but like BeemerBob found out, they do have gaps. Instead of creating an entire new organization to respond to SPOT emergencies, why not just carry a PLB?

    The PLB emergency response organization is already in place. If you kick off the PLB, there's a federally led rescue response and they cannot stop until they find your PLB. It's the same signal used by downed aircraft. There are two signals. A really strong satellite signal (way more reliable than SPOT) that lets rescuers get within a few hundred feet and a low power homing signal to get within a foot (not on the SPOT). The rescuers are adequately equipped so they won't have any problem finding your location.

    I have a SPOT and a PLB. When I'm on a road trip on main roads, I only carry the SPOT. I like it a lot. Great tracking for the family and help/emergency help on the road.

    If I'm going solo off the beaten path, I'll throw the PLB in my jacket pocket.
    BMWMOA #143326

  14. #14
    Touring Panpsychist Theo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alzyck View Post
    {snip}...why not just carry a PLB?...{snip}
    This is a great idea (IMHO), but most folks would want to have a PLB AND a SPOT. The sent tracks feature of the SPOT is appealing to most folks. It is a way to keep a log of your route and to update friends/other riders.

    However, with a PLB, you'd be less likely to have the jurisdictional issues...or would they still exist?
    Theo

    2009 R1200RT, 2007 Shadow Aero 750 (sold)
    2012 MINI Countryman S, 2004 MINI Cooper S JCW, 2000 BMW 328i

  15. #15
    Curmudgeon in training alzyck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by THEO View Post
    This is a great idea (IMHO), but most folks would want to have a PLB AND a SPOT. The sent tracks feature of the SPOT is appealing to most folks. It is a way to keep a log of your route and to update friends/other riders.

    However, with a PLB, you'd be less likely to have the jurisdictional issues...or would they still exist?
    I always carry the SPOT. My family likes to follow my progress. When I'm traveling solo and if I didn't check in on time, the tracking feature can give my family a place to start looking for me. The I'm OK feature also lets me check in when I'm out of cell range.

    If I'm going way off the beaten path, then I carry both. The SPOT for family tracking and check in. The PLB in case I get in real trouble.

    If I were considering some kind of MOA service, I think more along the lines of MOA purchasing a couple PLB's and renting them to members.

    I don't believe you'd have the kind of jurisdictional responses BeemerBob had if you use a PLB.
    BMWMOA #143326

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