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Technology that makes rescuers want to lock up hikers

Some members of the rescue services refer to personal locator beacons as "Yuppie 911" because they are now so cheap that inexperienced hikers set them off when there is no emergency.

Perhaps you might be one of those who believes that there should be a very remote and unremitting island, somewhere in the Northern Baltic Sea, reserved for all those who act in an utterly inconsiderate manner.

You know these people well: those who sneeze and don't cover their mouths; those who come to your house for dinner and don't bring a bottle or a smile; and those, at least for members of the rescue services, who have bought a personal locator beacon.

According the the Associated Press, as these beacons have become cheaper, there appear to have been more cases of people setting them off to alert rescue helicopters of imminent disaster.

Imminent disaster such as post-thunderstorm stress disorder or rather salty water drinking syndrome.

You may think this cannot be true. But here is a story the AP offers from the National Park Service in Arizona.

A few dads took their sons for a hike somewhere around the Grand Canyon. They ran out of water, so they activated their beacon. Soon, rescuers found the party. Oh, what joy they experienced to discover that the dads and boys had found a stream. Help was not needed after all.

After a couple of beers, might someone alert the services for a refill? CC Besighyawn/Flickr

However, they set their beacon off again a few hours later. Had a dad been devoured by a Bigfoot? Had a son become lunch for a bear? No, the hiking half-formed were worried that they might soon suffer dehydration because the water they had found tasted salty.

Which was a shame, as the rescue services were so concerned that they sent out a helicopter that was rather well equipped with night vision capabilities.

Your throat may temporarily cease to function when I tell you that this experience did not deter the fathers and sons from having faith in their beacon. The next day, they set it off again. Which caused the authorities to have them removed and cited for being utter and total morons who should never be allowed near the ACG section of Niketown ever again.

I'm sorry, that might not be quite accurate. The actual words were "creating a hazardous condition."

This might be an extreme incident. However, someone did once activate their beacon when they were frightened by a thunderstorm, the type of event that caused the top man at the California Search and Rescue operations to create a rather fine name for these personal locator beacons: Yuppie 911.

Matt Scharper, who co-ordinates rescue efforts in California, told the AP: "With the Yuppie 911, you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn't have been in in the first place."

The people who risk their lives by flying helicopters and allowing themselves to sometimes get far too close to people with the mind and body odor of a desperate rodent, think that inexperienced hikers are buying these beacons--they can be had for as little as $129.99--in the belief that they can negotiate terrain that is far beyond their minds and bodies.

But what can you do? How do you know that a piece of technology is in the hands of a decent citizen or an utter offal-muncher?

Surely some brilliant engineer might solve this conundrum. Otherwise, let's vote for a two-strike rule and it's off to the northern Baltic with you. Sans personal locator beacon.