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Personal Locator Beacons Causing Trouble For Search Crews

Published On: Sep 29 2011 02:10:26 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 09 2010 07:39:26 AM CDT

COLORADO SPRINGS - Unless you are an active outdoor enthusiast, you might not have heard about PLBs---personal locator beacons. They are used by skiers, hikers and campers to transmit a signal when in trouble.      The problem is PLBs are sending out too many false alarms.      "My personal experience with PLBs, they've all been false activation," says Skee Hipszky with El Paso County Search and Rescue (SAR). "I've not had a real one yet where a person was really in distress."

But responding agencies treat the signal as the real deal. That's why El Paso County SAR joined Civil Air Patrol on the ground and in the air on Friday to find the source of a distress signal. The initial signal was transmitted near Castle Rock Thursday night. It disappeared before reappearing Friday morning in the Broadmoor Towne Center on the Springs' south side.

"When it shows up in the middle of town at a shopping center like this one seems to be, we're not thinking so much that it's an emergency," says Hipszky. "It sounds more like an inadvertent activation but you still have to follow up on every one just to make sure it isn't a real emergency."In this case, the PLB owner failed to register the device. Search and rescue crews say failing to register the PLB is a big mistake.

"So in case the PLB goes off, we have a way of trying to contact you to see if you are really in distress or is it an accidental activation," says Hipszky.

Rescue crews spent two months from December to February searching for the source of a PLB distress signal. The owner kept turning the device off and on. Hipszky says if you send out a false alarm, you could face fines up to $250,000 in fines from the FCC.

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