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ART needs your help - PLB false alerts in Berthoud Pass area
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Dec 26, 2009
(the following is a forwarded release)

Alpine Rescue Team needs your help - PLB false alerts in Berthoud Pass area

Over the past two weeks, the Alpine Rescue Team has been notified of three PLB activations in the Berthoud Pass area between Winter Park and the Jones Pass area. These PLB false alarms have occurred on three different dates, December 14, 23, and 24, and all involve the same PLB.

If anyone has recently started to use - or knows someone who has - a ACR PLB-300 Microfix (RescueFix) acrelectronics.com/product2.as... and visits the Berthoud Pass area, please contact the Alpine Rescue Team. You can send me a private message or call Dale directly. Right now there are no violations, penalties, laws broken, etc., however, we would like to talk with you so you can understand how your PLB works and does not work. If you don't want to talk, at least keep your PLB turned off until you are in an actual life-threatening emergency.

Each detection of the PLB's signal starts a cascade of rescuers beginning with the US Air Force, the Colorado State Search and Rescue Coordinator, the local sheriff, and finally the local mountain rescue team, which in these cases has been Alpine Rescue Team. Each false alarm requires significant effort and time by many people. On Christmas Eve, rescuers from three different mountain rescue teams spent the afternoon trying to directional find the intermittent signal.

You might be wondering why a PLB is so hard to pinpoint, especially if you have read any advertising or promotional materials about these devices. This unit is not registered so no simple phone call to the owner can be made to verify the alert. Also, this unit is being turned on and off and moved between activations, so the search area cannot be well defined giving a search area up to 10+ miles in radius. When used properly these new digital PLBs can usually be identified and located in minutes.

Again, if you have been in the Berthoud Pass area on these three dates and have an ACR PLB or know someone who has, please contact us via private message, or call Dale Atkins directly at 303.579.7292. There are no legal issues or laws broken; we very much would like to talk with you. As always the services of Alpine Rescue Team are free.

Thank you for your help with this issue.

Dale Atkins
Technical Specialist

Paul "Woody" Woodward
President - Alpine Rescue Team
Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Dec 28, 2009
A fourth false hit occurred this afternoon, same area, same beacon.

Call Dale if anyone has any idea as to what is going on.
Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Dec 28, 2009
Here's a news clip updated from this afternoon's activation:

Fake Beacon Messes With Rescuers


title is a little mis-leading; there's nothing fake about the beacon, it works.
Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Dec 28, 2009
Bump... Thanks for posting Buff.

Jon
cheifitj Cheifitz
From Boulder, Colorado
Joined Jun 24, 2008
35 points
Dec 28, 2009
Post deleted by author.

On further reflection, it could discourage the person from contacting Alpine and getting their beacon working correctly.
Kevin Craig
Joined Mar 20, 2002
155 points
Dec 29, 2009
Just another great example of technology working against itself.

Lawmakers in Portland should be made aware of this so they can see that an electronic beacon will not save someone that is not lost.

I bet you it's some kid playing with Dad's new Xmas present and the owner isn't even aware of it........
Jim Amidon
Joined Jun 12, 2001
475 points
Dec 29, 2009
Is it possible to post a map of the hits? Do they come from the same area(s) - like parking lots or huts? Casey Bernal
From Arvada, CO
Joined Jan 20, 2006
215 points
Dec 29, 2009
Casey - yes, we map out the hits and look for highly probable areas. The trouble is that the beacon is not left on, so the satellites can't retask and get an exact fix -- as the article states the area could be 10-12 miles due to the type of beacon that it is. Nor is the beacon registered, so we can't make a simple phone call. (we also rule out cars in the parking lot)

Believe me, we had a group of highly experienced communication personnel up on Berthoud in the midst of 70 below wind chill, at night, & in conference call with the CSRB & AFRCC working on this when we initially thought we had an emergency. People were on the mountain working this from operational & logistical standpoints.

As far as passing along any mapping, there really isn't much to see. It's highly probable that it's someone that is frequently near the Berthoud Pass area/using Hwy 40.

From what we were briefed on, this PLB model takes a series of specific actions to activate; so accidental activation or activation from a dropped beacon at this point seems very unlikely.


Still given all of this, if we do get another/other PLB hits, it will still be dealt with as a potential emergency.
Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Dec 29, 2009
Total speculation here, but it seems like it could be the same mentality at work here that calls 911 and hangs up. Only problem is it's far more serious as it's not a police officer or two going a couple blocks to knock on someone's door. It's a large number of people taking time out of their lives to put themselves into uncomfortable conditions and often dangerous situations to try and help someone in distress. Hopefully this mystery will be solved soon. Mike Morin
From North Conway, NH
Joined Nov 4, 2007
900 points
Dec 30, 2009
Another hit today then the PLB is turned off; same area, same beacon. Some rescuers were sent out again.

Any chance someone could follow up with some info posting at Teton Gravity and/or other ski mountaineering sites if it hasn't already been done? -- have them call Dale or Woody.

If anyone needs more info to send along, or has better ideas, just drop me a line.
Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Dec 31, 2009
OK, my previous retraction notwithstanding....

Time to implement the "Boy (Girl?) Who Cried Wolf" solution. If this is intentional, the tool doesn't deserve rescue - even in a real emergency. If it's "accidental" this many times... consider it chlorine in the gene pool if they ever really need help.

I know you folks want to be responsible and professional, but seriously...

Only possible exception to my solution (again, total speculation)... any chance, taking into consideration the area that you've narrowed it down to, that it could be a domestic violence type situation? I.e. someone's getting abused, activates the beacon, abuser shuts it off. Seems like 911 would be the more likely in this situation, but maybe they don't have phone service for some reason or the party can't get to/use the phone??????????
Kevin Craig
Joined Mar 20, 2002
155 points
Dec 31, 2009
I bought one of these for my 85 year old dad to use in the mountains here in California. A couple of thoughts....

Is there some sort of time pattern when the beacon comes on? One probable scenario is that the owner doesn't really know how to use the PLB(well, duh) and is turning it on to "test" it before heading out.

Also, you are supposed to register the PLB so you know who to contact if it goes off. Can you work backward and maybe find the place where the beacon was bought and then find the buyer from a credit card receipt? A lot of SAR folks are Law Enforcement Officers (LEO's) so there should be some interdepartmental co-operation to hunt down the buyer via purchase records.

Bruce
Bruce Hildenbrand
Joined Apr 18, 2003
880 points
Dec 31, 2009
Has anyone posted a sign at the parking lot(s) frequently used for Berthoud Pass? Crag Dweller
From New York, NY
Joined Jul 17, 2006
50 points
Dec 31, 2009
Kev -- we can chat at the Park if you're around.


Bruce -- no pattern; other than it's highly probable around the Berthoud Pass/US40 area. Your second concern is an important one -- whomever spent that kind of dough for the not-cheap PLB didn't register it. We know the serial number but can't find where it came from. Since registration is mandatory, maybe the retailers should process this at time of purchase??

The initial media attempts were to look at the thought of it being used as someone who would check their avy beacon; which is one theory as to what is going on.


Craig -- Signage will probably be looked at now. If this was put up from law enforcement it might not have helped by having the hammer be thrown down right off the bat. So media was looked at to try and get the beacon user in contact with rescue personnel to at least find out why this is occurring and help prevent more non-emergent hits.
Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Dec 31, 2009
I had read of a few reports of SPOT beacons being turned on accidentally due to the arrangement of the buttons, which is not such a good feature. It might be the case here as well. In any case, I hope you locate this user and figure out what is going on. Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Joined Jan 1, 2001
1,230 points
Jan 1, 2010
After two weeks and five PLB activations in the Berthoud Pass area, our mystery PLB has now traveled southwest towards Crested Butte.
Todays activation was north of Crested Butte in between the Elktown Cabin and the Gothic Cabin. Again any information about this would be helpful. All six of these PLB activations have come from the same unit - a ACR-300 Microfix.

Paul "Woody" Woodward
Alpine Rescue Team
Woody610
Joined Sep 2, 2009
0 points
Jan 1, 2010
Woody610 wrote:
After two weeks and five PLB activations in the Berthoud Pass area, our mystery PLB has now traveled southwest towards Crested Butte. Todays activation was north of Crested Butte in between the Elktown Cabin and the Gothic Cabin. Again any information about this would be helpful. All six of these PLB activations have come from the same unit - a ACR-300 Microfix. Paul "Woody" Woodward Alpine Rescue Team


Can't the company provide who the purchaser of that model is? I'm not too familiar with how they work, but since it's a service doesn't it have to go through the company?
Scott McMahon
From Boulder, CO
Joined Feb 15, 2006
105 points
Jan 1, 2010
What a waste of time! How long will the batteries last? We can only hope it's in the trunk of a car, and will go dead soon. I say the trunk, because opening it to load/unload might allow a signal, and closing it shield the signal. If it's more malicious, who knows when it will end.

It sure sounds like the system needs some tuneup with respect to 'unregistered' units.
Wayne DENSMORE
From Superior, CO
Joined Jul 5, 2007
5 points
Jan 1, 2010
Scott McMahon wrote:
Can't the company provide who the purchaser of that model is? I'm not too familiar with how they work, but since it's a service doesn't it have to go through the company?


Basically, No.

It's a type of service which is more govt based, (not the commercial one, Spot). The ACR is a one time purchase, not a periodical service plan. Since it wasn't registered (for free), we can't backtrack its origin. Maybe the retailer should step in and start doing the initial registration as it is mandatory to do so in order to put a unit out in the public to start with. Imagine this being a maritime concern with the Coast Guard being sent out 6 times to chase a phantom; this would be all over the news.


I believe this model is harder to set off accidentally like the SPOT is as it takes a series of acts to make it work. But then this PLB in question gets shut off before the sat system can pin-point the signal; so the margin of error for the locate is huge in terms of mountain wilderness area.


As far as battery life. Typical expected is approx 24hrs if continuously running. It could run longer in the summer-time, like 36 hours; or possibly shorter in extreme cold like Berthoud was experiencing over the course of some of these activations.

I believe we had an ACR go off in Summit Cty, properly used, & the SCRG & Air Natl Guard were able to effect a locate & get supplies/personnel in the field to where they were needed (granted the Spot has done a good job, also).

These PLB devices work really well to do a locate for someone in distress. So this is a serious matter, you don't set these off unless you need help.
Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Jan 1, 2010
Bump...

OK, forgive my ignorance...but...just a thought that I didn't see spelled out in the thread above. Maybe your above post is actually describing this exact process...but it wasn't clear to me...

How are you verifying it is the exact same, physical unit? Does it send out a unique code (even if not registered to a user)? If so, can the manufacturer determine the lot number for the unit...and by extension determine the retailer it was sold by/distributed through? If you can identify the individual retail location is there any way to get a list of purchasers from the retailer?

Privacy limitations? Might require law enforcement involvement? Is it even possible?

Just a thought...
bevans
Joined Feb 27, 2008
0 points
Jan 2, 2010
Bevans, you are right on in the questions you have asked about this. Through NOAA and the Air force we have been able to get a serial number from each of these activations and they all come from the same unit. We have investigated with the local retailers that nine of these units have been sold in 2009. Getting the names of who purchased these is going to be incredibly difficult and we are leaving that up to law enforcement. The biggest problem we have had is that the manufacture (ACR) has been on Christmas vacation the past two weeks and there has been no way to contact them. First thing this Monday, there will be calls to them. The PLB activations have only occurred on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays over the past 3 weeks so we expect that the next activation will be this Monday.

Woody

Woody610
Joined Sep 2, 2009
0 points
Jan 23, 2010
So it just stopped? Or? Wayne DENSMORE
From Superior, CO
Joined Jul 5, 2007
5 points
Jan 23, 2010
Nah, we did something else. If Woody wants to chime in, his explanation helps. If you have a plb, use it like a plb. Buff Johnson
Joined Dec 19, 2005
545 points
Jan 24, 2010
Buff Johnson wrote:
Nah, we did something else. If Woody wants to chime in, his explanation helps. If you have a plb, use it like a plb.

I hope Woody chimes in...
kBobby Hanson
From Spokane, WA
Joined Oct 5, 2001
1,245 points
Jan 24, 2010
Bobby Hanson wrote:
I hope Woody chimes in...


me too.
cheifitj Cheifitz
From Boulder, Colorado
Joined Jun 24, 2008
35 points
Jan 25, 2010
Here is a recap of what has happened with our PLB mystery.

From December 14th to January 5th, there were 9 activations from the same PLB here in Colorado. Eight of these activations where in the Berthoud Pass area and the other lone activation was in an area north of Crested Butte. This PLB was not registered after being purchased so there was no way to determine the owner of this specific PLB. Through the efforts of ACR, REI and the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office, it was determined that this PLB was shipped from ACR to REI on July 1, 2009. It was further determined that 12 of these beacons where sold in Colorado between July 1 and December 13. The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office made contact with the 12 owners that purchased the PLB's. Although no one has come forth and admitted that this was their beacon, there has not been an activation since these folks where contacted.

It has always been felt that we didn’t need to know who the individual was but instead that they be educated on the use of the PLB. With the public awareness of this situation and the help of the Sheriff's office, media and other internet public forums, we feel this has been accomplished. We thank all of you for your help in this matter.

Paul “Woody” Woodward
Alpine Rescue Team

Woody610
Joined Sep 2, 2009
0 points


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