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March 2, 2007

Bruce Schneier on Risk Assessment

Beyond Fear - Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain WorldWhile I don’t always agree 100% with everything Bruce Schneier (author of “Beyond Fear”) writes, I have a lot of respect for him and nobody I know gets it right more often than he does when it comes to security issues. Much of what he does also touches on other issues we deal with on a daily basis. In his latest Crypto-Gram Newsletter he focuses on risk assessment and risk management in an essay titled “The Psychology of Security.” These are topics which are equally of interest to pilots, survivalists, SAR personnel and others who are involved in determining what the real risks are and how best to mitigate them. Too often individuals make poor risk assessments, and as a result, poor decisions, because we are unduly influenced by irrelevant issues or perceptions rather than reality.

Being Equipped To Survive® is all about assessing the risks and then developing a risk management plan. In simple terms, this is what we do when we decide what gear and supplies we will pack into a survival kit for any particular circumstance. If you can’t properly asses the actual risks, any decisions based on that assessment if flawed

If you understand how you arrive at the decision, what influences the risk assessment and the potholes and pitfalls along the way, you can make better decisions based on the actual risk, which can be vastly different from the perceived risk. I urge you to read through this essay, it has a lot of good information to offer, some you may already know, some you may just suspect and some I think you will find new and fascinating. In the end, you should be able to make a better risk assessment and better decisions to manage risk as a result.

February 25, 2007

An Example Others Could Learn From

Filed in Gear , Musings , News

Too often the lessons we learn come as a result of tragedy or mistakes. Here’s a story where everything was done right and the result stands an example that others could learn from. Not that I expect many will, this happened to “the other guy.” For too many, it always happens to “the other guy,” until is happens to them. As I like to remind folks, you are ‘the other guy” to everyone else. Most everyone else expects it’s going to happen to you. You’d hope a word to the wise and a good example might penetrate some of these thick skulls of boaters who won’t be equipped to survive…

A day fishing in a Northeast Florida Marlin Association wahoo tournament 30 miles off the coast of Florida goes awry when the boat catches fire, an all too common occurrence. Being prepared makes all the difference in the world to this captain and crew in a survival tale recounted by Jim Sutton in the Florida Times-Union newspaper.

The conclusion of the Jim Sutton’s article sums it all up as nicely as anyone could want:

“Survivors? The term used in that report is, in some ways, misleading. The crew more correctly handled the emergency than survived it. In many emergencies at sea, it’s hindsight that’s 20/20: “If only we’d done this.”

In the case of the crew of the Lit Up, it was their foresight that was clear. In recounting the sequence of events, there wasn’t a time when the crew felt threatened or out of control.

As Maccini said, six anglers “ditched a burning boat in the open ocean, and there wasn’t so much as a hangnail in the process.”

That started with preparation. Martin had the correct equipment on board. The EPIRB was functioning, and the life raft was accessible and recently re-packed and checked. Better hull designs and fuel-efficient engines allow smaller boats to more easily make the 40-mile trip east to the ledge today than in the past. Smaller boats have little room for bulky items such as life rafts.

But Leaptrott says there isn’t an excuse for leaving the dock without one.

“Most of those guys think nothing of carrying an extra cooler full of beer on a long trip out,” he says. “If you can carry beer, you can carry a raft.”

And while an EPIRB is a vital piece of safety equipment on a boat in emergencies, it’s only a part of the equation. If you ditch in cold-water conditions, like they did when the Lit Up went down, having an EPIRB but no life raft might simply make it easier to find the bodies.

Finally, all the safety equipment in the world won’t help if you aren’t familiar with its operation. Martin schools the crew prior to every fishing trip on the location and use of the ditch-kit, life raft, EPIRB, radios, fire extinguishers and more. He also files a complete float plan before every trip – including destination and estimated time into port.

“If I tell my wife we’ll be in by 8:30, and we’re not in, and she hasn’t heard from me – don’t start worrying, start calling the Coast Guard,” Martin said.

The crew of the Lit Up ruined a perfectly good story of life-and-death struggles at sea. No terror. No tragedy.

What their story offers is a lesson for so many anglers naive enough to be indifferent to the power and unpredictability of the Atlantic.

After what he and his crew experienced, captain Tim Martin believes it should be.”

Read the whole tale here and learn the lesson. There’s no excuse to leave port without a life raft and a 406 MHz distress beacon. Captain Martin serves as the right kind of example, a pleasant change from the usual. Emulate a good example for a change. I won’t hurt and it might save your life.

February 15, 2007

GlobalStar On the Skids, Iridium Aims Higher

Filed in Gear , Musings , News

Satellite phone company GlobalStar has finally admitted what many of us have suspected for some time, namely that their system has problems and is not reliable. It seems that in their latest SEC filing GlobalStar has essentially told its users that things are bad and getting worse, as this article in Barron’s indicates. Bottom line, don’t bet your life on a GlobalStar phone.

Meanwhile, seeking perhaps to capitalize on its competitors weak position, Iridium is announcing a major effort to improve its service. in a press release today Iridium noted, “it will formally launch its “Iridium NEXT” initiative at the SATELLITE 2007 Show in Washington, D.C. next week. The NEXT launch is the start of an intensive, multi-year design and development program for Iridium’s next-generation satellite constellation…In addition, NEXT will offer significantly enhanced services to the company’s current and new customers. Iridium will deploy NEXT on a schedule supporting a smooth transition from the current constellation.” Well, take that GlobalStar

Meanwhile, Iridium has been beefing up its existing infrastructure including new ground stations in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Svalbard, Norway.

I’ve always recommended Iridium over GlobalStar, just because they have always had better coverage worldwide and better, if not great, customer service. I can’t claim any inside knowledge, but every once in a while I call it right by accident.

Having said all that, I would never bet my life on a sat phone connection. They are great when they work, but a 406 MHz distress beacon is a lot more reliable. Too many times I have been in situations when the sat phone should have worked, no problem, but didn’t.

ETS SHOT Show Report 2007

Filed in Gear , News

The Equipped To Survive SHOT Show Report 2007 has been posted.  Enjoy!

February 8, 2007

Winter Survival on the Today Show – Good and Bad

Yesterday, NBC’s Today Show ran a piece on winter survival that was better than most, though not without its errors and critical omissions. The written article on MSNBC’s site is pretty good for what it is, Charles Horton’s survival story. The video from the Today Show can also be viewed on the same page and that’s where I found some issues.

While the advice is generally sound, the failure to mention PLBs (406 MHz Personal Locator Beacons) was an irresponsible omission, in my opinion. While there’s no doubt a cell phone and a handheld GPS are less expensive, and that they have and will save lots of folks, they cannot save you if do not have cell phone coverage. There are still many area or specific locations in otherwise good coverage areas in the wilderness where you cannot use your cell phone. A PLB doesn’t have this limitation. It at least deserved mention as an option.

Snow Trench ShelterThey spent a good deal of time discussing a snow cave and their illustration of the effectiveness of the shelter using the thermometers is excellent. Then four of them dug one, not a single person who was injured, as was the case with Horton. Their 40 minute minimum estimate of how much time it would take to make one is off by a significant factor unless you are well equipped, in good shape and have done it before. Having some buddies along is also a huge help. Alone is a lot more difficult. While they gave a 90 minute estimate on the other end of the scale, too often in such a presentation people remember only the first mention and few average people could do it in any less. It would have been better to emphasize the 90 minute estimate, and even that may be optimistic in many circumstances, and then say you can do it in as little at 40 minutes if you are experienced and in good shape, are not injured, have some assistance etc.. They didn’t even specifically mention that you need a shovel of some sort to do it efficiently (the Snow Claw is what I include in my Aviator Survival Paks because it is so efficient, compact and light weight).

A snow cave is the Taj Mahal of snow shelters, but not the only answer and not the best in some circumstances. With a group, who can share the construction effort, it makes a lot of sense. If by yourself with limited time and resources, or if injured, a simple Snow Trench Shelter is quicker and easier (shown above and in an illustration from the Pocket Survival Pak survival instructions which can be downloaded here). And, the tree well shelter that was used by Horton, but only mentioned in passing in the video, is excellent because nature has done a lot of the work for you.

Moreover, their advice to use a “space blanket ” for insulation under you is just plain bad. Tree branches, as shown, are excellent improvised insulation, but a space blanket has no insulative value in and of itself. All it will do, which is better than nothing, is keep you for getting wet if your body heat melts the snow under you. Evergreen boughs, about 9-12 inches uncompressed, are excellent insulation under you, no matter what snow shelter you use.

Finally, as noted you want to avoid getting wet as much as possible, but working hard constructing a snow shelter, especially a snow cave, can overheat you quickly. You sweat, your clothes get wet and you are in big trouble. Shed layers to keep from overheating and sweating heavily.

January 17, 2007

Mustang Rescue Stick Aims to Hit the Mark

Filed in Gear , News

Mustang Rescue StickAnyone who has ever tried to toss a person in the water a life ring or similar flotation device, knows it’s not easy and accuracy is an iffy proposition. There have been a number of products developed over the years to address that and now Mustang Survival has tossed their Rescue Stick into the ring.

Mustang claims that the baton-shaped Rescue Stick is naturally easy to throw accurately. It is 14 inches long and weighs 15.5 ounces, just short of a pound. Mustang claims the Rescue Stick can be thrown 100 ft. or further with accuracy. They obviously never met my sister.

The horseshoe shaped bladder inflates automatically upon contact with the water using a CO2 cartridge and the common bobbin type inflation device used in older generation personal flotation devices (PFDs). It can be re-armed by the owner with a re-arming kit. A manual pull cord is also provided. It provides 35 lbs. of buoyancy, equal to a conventional PFD. Note, however, that is will not keep an unconscious person upright in the water, it’s for use by conscious persons only. There’s also no line attached with which you might pull someone in, it’s strictly a flotation device.

Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price is $160. For more details, go to: www.rescuestick.com

VIKING RescYou Life Rafts Recalled

Filed in Gear , News

VIKING RescYou RecallVIKING has issued a Safety Recall for some of their  RescYou and top of the line self-righting RescYou Pro life rafts. A fault in the pressure relief valves could result in an inflation failure or partial inflation. Only certain serial numbers of the life rafts are included.

The VIKING web site includes instructions on locating the serial number and then an interactive form in which you input that number to tell if your life raft is affected.

Viking is covering the cost of inspection and replacement of the relief valves if necessary at an approved VIKING service station, as well as the cost of shipping when arranged by an approved VIKING service station.

Lots more details on the VIKING Web site.

January 11, 2007

ACR Introduces MicroFix 406 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Filed in Gear , News

RedFlare Sponsor ETS SHOT Show 2007 Report



Finally, I can publicly announce one of the worst kept secrets in the business, the new ACR Electronics MicrOFix 406 Personal Locator Beacon. (Click photo for larger image) It was introduced at SHOT Show this morning.
ACR claims this is the world’s smallest PLB with built in GPS. The MicrOFix is 35% smaller and 25% lighter than its predecessor, the ACR TerraFix, wighing in at just 10 oz (285 g). Size is 1.4 x 5.85 x 2.21 inches (35.5 x 149 x 56 cm). This truly is approaching pocket size and weight.

Activation is by a single button, protected by the tab attached to the antenna, Deploying the flat stainless steel antenna, similar to that of the existing PLB 200 (TerraFix, et al) model, easy even with gloves on, uncovers the button. A single button make activation easy, especially compared to the two-button system on the existing PLB, one of it’s drawbacks that this new PLB addresses.

It is nice to see that ACR has taken to heart many of the suggestions and issues raised in our earlier beacon evaluations. The design addresses many of these issues and reportedly exceeds the proposed new standards we have been working on in the RTCM SC110 committee. For example, it is waterproof up to 16 ft (5 m) for one hour and 33 ft (10 m) for ten minutes. The GPS antenna location is clearly marked and the text is as I have recommended, “Do Not Cover GPS Reciever” and “Give Clear View of Sky.”

It includes a full functional self-test including battery voltage and power indication and test of 406 MHz transmission and GPS acquisition. There is no external GPS capability, which is just fine. The new GPS receiver is reportedly much improved and there’s little to be gained anymore with an external GPS hook-up. There will be no non-GPS-equipped model.

Typical operating life is given at 40 hrs at -4°F (-20°C) and 8 hrs at -40°F (-40°C). The pair of Class II lithium battery packs are non-hazmat making shipping a lot less painful. As before they have a five-year replacement cycle (11-year storage).

The MSRP is $750, but it is still awaiting final FCC approvals, expected in “early 2007,” so don’t run down to your retailer just yet. Until those approvals are obtained, it “is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased.”


RedFlare Sponsor ETS SHOT Show 2007 Report

January 5, 2007

Survivor Credits Equipped To Survive

Filed in News

Many of you have read about the climber rescued in Big Bend National Park, Texas, by using his PLB (406 MHz Personal Locator Beacon) to signal his distress. You will find the basic details on the Equipped.org Blog at: http://www.equipped.org/blog/?p=48

On a public forum, BigBendChat.com, the survivor (posting under the name Boot Canyon 1 Cougar) has given Equipped To Survive credit for his having become familiar with the PLB he purchased and used:

“I learned of the ACR Personal Locater Beacon through the following site, “Equipped to Survive,” which appeared to me to be one of the better sites on preparing to survive an emergency in the wilderness: http://www.equipped.org/. ”

This is the reason I do what I do. This is why it’s worth all the effort. This is the payoff.

To all of you whose contributions keep ETS going, I hope this gives you as much satisfaction as it does me. I could not do it without your support, thank you. To those wondering if a contribution to ETS Foundation is worth it, I don’t know that I can offer any better argument for supporting this web site and the work I do. Please help us to continue making a difference with your tax-deductible contribution.

January 3, 2007

PLB Leads to Rescue

Filed in News

As more Personal Locator Beacons are sold, it is inevitable that more “saves” will be credited to these high tech distress beacons. Here’s the latest, a classic example where having a PLB saved time and resources and quite possibly a life. As they become more common and rangers and others become more knowledgeable about them and invest in homing equipment, it will get even easier.

Big Bend National Park (TX)
Stranded Hiker Uses PLB To Summon Help

On the evening of December 30th, the U.S. Air Force notified the park that a personal locator beacon (PLB) signal had been received from a backcountry location within the park. Rangers headed to a backcountry campsite about six miles from the coordinates given by the PLB and found a vehicle registered to a visitor who had a solo hiker permit for that zone of the park.

Two rangers then hiked to the approximate PLB coordinates, but were unable to find anyone in that area. They were joined by another team of searchers and a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter the following morning. The crew of the helicopter homed in on the 121.5 MHz distress transmission from the PLB within minutes of arriving on scene and soon spotted the hiker, who was waving a space blanket at them.

He had “cliffed out” on the side of Elephant Tusk peak, but gave the helicopter crew a thumbs-up signal indicating that he was okay. Although the helicopter was unable to land, the crew directed searchers to the man’s location, then ferried rope and climbing equipment to the rangers on scene. They climbed to his location and helped him down.

The man told rangers that he’d attempted to climb to the top of Elephant Tusk the day before. He’d cached his backpack, tent and sleeping bag and had made the ascent carrying only a space blanket, food, water, a whistle, an LED light, and a PLB. After topping a 40-foot chimney, he decided to turn back – only to find he couldn’t climb down from his location. He spent the night on a 6-foot by 50-foot ledge wrapped in the space blanket, with his PLB tied to a bush to keep it from being blown away by high winds. Overnight temperatures were just below freezing.

This incident marks the first time in Big Bend that a PLB has been used by a hiker to call in rescuers. Without the PLB and assistance from the DPS helicopter, it would have been extremely difficult to find and rescue the man in a timely fashion. The PLB probably saved his life. [Submitted by Mark Spier, Chief Ranger]