Legislators Propose Electronic Signaling Devices for Mountaineers, OR


Following hi-drama rescue efforts this winter on Oregons Mt. Hood, electronic signaling devices (ESDs) have been touted by the media as key to saving lives.

Responding to these recent events, the Oregon governor recently issued an executive order (www.governor.oregon.gov/Gov/docs/executive_orders/eo0701.pdf) establishing a Search and Rescue Task Force to review Oregon laws, rules and policies pertaining to search and rescue operations and to recommend contemporary best practices for search and rescue operations. Now, a new bill in the Oregon state legislature (HB 2509) would require the use of ESDs by any individual or group engaging in mountain climbing above timberline during a five-month period in the winter. The proposed law would also require commercial guides, under certain conditions, to carry an altimeter, contour map and a compass. For more details see www.leg.state.or.us/07reg/measures/hb2500.dir/hb2509.intro.html.

Public criticism of HB 2509 was swift. Many point out that most ESDs will not serve as effective rescue tools and could cause the inexperienced to rely on them inappropriately (for example, use these one-way devices as avalanche beacons). Moreover, people carrying cell phones and ESDs may take more risk than normal, thinking that they can easily summon help. Alternatively, mountaineers who do not carry an ESD, yet know of the new legal requirement, may hesitate to ask for help for fear of penalty, thus further endangering themselves and rescuers. In short, the unintended but very real consequence of this proposed law will be more risks by mountaineers and lost time by rescuers.

Opponents of this bill also complain that the requirements to carry additional equipment are applied in a discriminatory fashion to mountaineers only (it doesnt apply to hikers, skiers, or, snowmobilers) despite surveys of rescue efforts that show that these other recreational user groups generate more search and rescue hours. Moreover, it is generally easier to locate people above tree line and much more difficult to locate people in the forest where ESDs devices would not be required under the proposed law.

The Access Fund believes that outdoor enthusiasts should take responsibility for their own safety and responsibly use appropriate rescue equipment. However, the state should not require the use of ESDs as these devices can create a false sense of security that rescue is available. Also, penalties for failing to carry an ESD may create a disincentive to contacting rescuers, thus further endangering everyone involved. To comment on HB 2509 (whether you live in Oregon or not) email the Oregon legislature at: www.leg.state.or.us. For more information contact Access Fund Policy Director Jason Keith at [email protected].