We tout operating fly fishing lodges in some pretty remote places. Why? Because as most anglers can attest to; the more remote the destination, the better the fishing.
However, running fishing lodges in remote locations doesn’t come without challenges. Not the least of which is, “what do you do if there’s an emergency in the middle of nowhere?”
It’s a question we get asked a lot and certainly something we take extremely seriously. So, today we thought we’d take yo behind the scenes and tell you about the emergency communication system we use at two of our lodges; Andros South and Alaska West.
SPOT Satellite GPS Messengers
At Andros South and Alaska West, our guides carry a SPOT – a satellite messenger that allows them to send pre-programmed messages through GPS in the event of an emergency. From boat problems to life-threatening injuries, the SPOT allows our guides to send for help far outside of cell-phone coverage.
Each of our guide’s units are programmed to send three distinct messages that notify our on-site management staff via phone and email. Those messages serve the following purposes:
- We need help, but everyone is okay. This is used mostly in the event of a boat problem or mechanical issue and allows us to quickly send another boat and/or mechanic out to assist.
- We figured out the problem, and no longer need help. This notifies us that the problem has been solved by the guide and they no longer need assistance. Or, this is the message we use to let us know a boat might be returning a few minutes late, but everything is okay (often the result of hot fishing).
- S.O.S. This is used only in the event of a life-threatening injury. Once pushed, a message is sent to the International Emergency Rescue Coordination Centre (IERCC), a 24/7 emergency dispatch center located in Houston, Texas. Operatives at the IERCC then call our listed manager on-site to confirm the button was not pushed by mistake, and promptly alert the nearest emergency response service to coordinate a rescue.
Why Not Satellite Phones?
This is a question we get asked a lot from our guests. Satellite phones can work great. However, they can also work poorly. In fact, when signal is poor (such as during inclement wether) a satellite phone is only as good as what you can hear on the other end. On the other hand, satellite messengers (like the SPOT) only need the minimum signal to send the intended message. Much like being able to shoot off a quick text message rather than making a full phone call with spotty cell-service.
Also, while satellite phones offer verbal communication, that type of communication is only helpful in an emergency situation if the person on the other end can describe the location of the emergency to a responder. “Near all those mangroves, next to that long flat,” or “upstream of Zig-Zag Bar” probably won’t cut it to a rescue professional in an extremely remote location. Instead, our SPOTs provide real-time GPS tracking once a button is pushed, sent directly to our manager’s email inbox, but more on that below.
When a distress button is pushed by one of our guides, an email is sent directly to our on-site managers with a Google map and GPS pin-point of the unit’s location that looks something like this:
As long as the unit remains on, additional emails are sent every five minutes with an updated location allowing our team to determine whether or not the boat is stationary, drifting, or making way. This feature alone allows us to respond quicker than we could with a satellite phone.
Lastly, one thing we love about our SPOTs is how simple they are to use. No phone numbers or passwords to remember, only a few buttons to learn, and directions are printed on the back of the unit itself. Plus, they’re also surprisingly durable and waterproof too, which is pretty important in our line of work.
Needless to say, we love our SPOTs.