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SPOT GPS Messenger isn’t getting the message.

If you have spent any time perusing outdoor gear catalogs and Web sites in the last couple of years, chances are you have come across an ad for the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger, a quasi-GPS device that isn’t as much route finder (a recent technology integration with DeLorme has added that functionality to one version, however) as it is signal flag.

With the touch of a button on the SPOT, specified friends and family can find out your status on extended trips into the backcountry. “Hey, I’m at camp, firing up the Ramen,” the device beeps out into space and then rockets back to a family member’s inbox.

Primarily, it is designed as a rescue device, as it also has the ability to send out an emergency distress message when things get a bit uncomfortable out there. “So, we’re not dying, but we could use a hand.”

And finally, it can alert nearby fast response rescue organizations when you zipper off of a 150-foot trad route.

Last October at the Wilderness Risk Management Conference, I spoke with an area SPOT rep touting the newest edition of the product, about which he admitted cures the ills of the first version, which made it all too easy for people to fat-finger the “Hey, everything’s cool” button and instead broadcast a “Holy crap I’m in deep here …” emergency alert.

He said countless instances of this happening were recorded around the country. Rescue industry people, needless to say, we’re getting pissed.

Like national park rangers, for one.
(Side note: two points for my timeliness. I drafted this post well over a week ago. And here comes the NY Times to provide some support. And Thanks to guest writer Ryan for alerting me to this article.)

But given the most recent ad campaign for the newest version, one slide from which seen above, I don’t think the SPOT team got the message.

Ad servers connected to various outdoor product and services sites, like Backcountry.com, for example, are delivering an ad campaign touting how easy it is for SPOT users to have at their fingertips the rescue power of a helicopter team, prepared to just swoop in at a signal’s notice and whoop-whoop-whoop them back to safety. (Second side note: I do not hold the sites that serve the ads at all responsible.)

Yeah, well, it’s not that gloriously easy. Or cool.

Backcountry rescue efforts are a nasty business. They’re dangerous to everyone involved and typically require a lot of people–and money––to go ‘shwakin’ through forests and up scree fields.

The SPOT, on most accounts, seems like a very purposeful device. And, I would use one. However, I have full understanding that even the entire creative programming team pecking away at Google couldn’t generate enough search intelligence to overpower the gigahertz of safety that comes from simply exercising sound judgement in the backcountry.

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