Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

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Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Jon MS » Mon 26 Oct, 2020 6:53 pm

Hi,
Has anyone had experience with using Garmin InReach devices for emergency contacts?

Over the past couple of decades when people access remote areas the carrying of Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) has been highly recommended. Whilst these devices work well, they only allow for one-way, outgoing communication meaning that emergency agencies have to assume in most cases that immediate assistance is required.

This means that rescues may be initiated when, on one hand timely advice would have been an advantage (eg during a heart attack or anaphylactic episode), or alternately, extraction of people with non-life threatening injuries could have been safely delayed until either resources are available (eg if multiple rescues occur at the same time), under better weather conditions and/or at a more appropriate time of day. In addition, there are frequent anecdotal reports of PLBs being activated under non-critical circumstances when the user could have walked out (eg tiredness and/or a lack of fitness).

Some of these issues could be addressed by having reliable two-way communication suitable for use in remote areas. Whilst mobile phones can address some of these issues, mobile phones do not work in many areas, typically have poor battery life and are sensitive to adverse weather conditions (especially heavy rain). Satellite phones are also a potential solution, but are very expensive to buy and operate, relatively heavy to carry, have limited battery life, are sensitive to adverse weather conditions and are highly unreliable in sites with dense forest canopies (especially during adverse weather).

A potential solution to this issue are devices such as the Garmin InReach.

InReach devices work much more reliably than a satellite phones, particularly in dense vegetation and/or adverse weather. My own personnel experience, having owned a satellite phone for over 15 years, is that satellite phones do not permit stable or reliable contact (in either routine or emergency situations) when the user is located under a canopy or when there is thick cloud and/or rain. InReach communicators have a big advantage here because only a small signal needs to get through for communication to work.

InReach devices also add a new layer of safety because they automatically send their GPS location with each message. Also the user can automatically generate a web based track log of their movements desired. InReach devices are significantly lighter and more compact than satellite phones meaning that it is easier for them to be carried when people are away from their camp and/or packs.

As an example of their reliability and utility, InReach devices are in routine use for remote area communication when NSW NPWS staff and volunteers are doing fieldwork.

However, it is not currently possible to send an emergency call (ie ring 000 or 112) from an InReach device. What I am proposing is that an emergency contact number be made available for use. Note that this number may also be useful for use from mobile phones if the user is located in a marginal coverage area which does have adequate coverage to make a voice call.

Anyone else got any comments or input?
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Warin » Mon 26 Oct, 2020 8:32 pm

:?:

I believe inreach devices use the same technology as satellite phones and would suffer similar problems, the only advantage is that inreach is sending/receiving SMS rather than voice so could be more tolerant to weak signals.

Just as with cell phones, satellite phone service can depend on which firm you select to use.

000 (or 112) do not support SMS calls. That is a function of 000 and nothing to do with inreach, SMS, cell phones or anyone else.

If inreach were to provide voice contact they would be the same as satellite phones and suffer similar problems with battery life and week signals.

You need to do more research on inreach.. rather than have it repeated here. Read
https://www8.garmin.com/manuals/webhelp ... 2D247.html

Most people who buy PLB/EPIRBs buy them with the GPS function (cost a little more)- so outgoing emergency calls include the GPS location.

Note------------
This topic would be better in the 'Equipment - Techno Babble' section.
See
viewtopic.php?f=21&t=30758
viewtopic.php?f=21&t=30728
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby wayno » Tue 27 Oct, 2020 9:02 am

I'm not clear what your proposing, do you want a satellite call to be able to be made from an inreach?
Inreach use the same iridium satellite system as the Iridium phones
if you want the inreach to make calls even via your cell phone, you're going to have to put a much bigger battery and electronics in it and its going to end up the same size and weight as the phone.... theres not going to be much benefit using it through your cell phone..
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Son of a Beach » Tue 27 Oct, 2020 11:07 am

The InReach (and similar but not-quite-as-versatile) SPOT devices are a great concept. The main reason I recently purchased my first PLB recently, and not an InReach was that the cost of the InReach is considerably more expensive. Especially when you take into account the ongoing monthly fees.

The other reason is that when I'm out bush, I don't want to be tempted to get involved in an electronic messaging conversation. I want to be disconnected (yes, I do lack discipline, and yes, I do love chatting with my wife).
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Jon MS » Tue 27 Oct, 2020 11:16 am

What I am suggesting is that an emergency number be made available that can accept SMS.

Of course it is not possible to make a voice call from a InReach... It is an SMS only device!

The issue of not being able to send an emergency SMS applies to both mobiles and satellite phones. Over the about 15 years that I had a satellite phone I estimate that in SW Tas there were problems making voice calls about 25% of the time, requiring a move to a location with a clearer view of the sky. It is normal to have to make 2 to 10 calls to get a message through. I have also had lots of situations where my mobile can see the network but has no bars and will not make a voice call.

In an emergency, you can not assume that it will be possible to move.

Last summer I was involved with 2 rescue call outs. The first was when someone fell 5 metres down a cliff and damaged their hip. It took at least 5 calls to organise the rescue chopper. The second was a large party on the South Coast track made up of mostly mainlanders with a couple of Tasmanians. The Tasmanians were struggling and the mainlanders did not want to miss their flights home so went ahead, with the party's PLB. I called in to S&R when the rescue chopper flew over following the track over the South Cape Range and guessed that they were looking for the missing couple. It took several calls to get through but the voice quality was so low my message as to where the people were did not get through to the searching chopper. It was only when I got to South Cape Rvt and found the chopper on the beach was I able to tell them where to search. In both of these cases, a SMS would have been quicker, much clearer and taken less battery.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby north-north-west » Tue 27 Oct, 2020 2:04 pm

There is an SMS compatible emergency number in Australia (mostly used by deaf people).
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby wayno » Tue 27 Oct, 2020 2:08 pm

north-north-west wrote:There is an SMS compatible emergency number in Australia (mostly used by deaf people).


i dont think that works for mobile phones, it uses special text devices or computer applicaitons to send the messages

https://www.esendex.com.au/blog/post/sh ... ms-to-000/
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby north-north-west » Tue 27 Oct, 2020 4:12 pm

There are two options I know of. One is part of the National Relay Service program and the other, unless my memory has gone bonkers, is a dedicated mobile number. As far as I know, both will work with a standard mobile phone so should also work with an InReach.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Nuts » Wed 28 Oct, 2020 10:49 am

Yep good idea Jon. Maybe there would be technical difficulties with a 000 type number but can't see it difficult to monitor an easily recalled or diverted text / mobile number(?) Seems they need to now catch up with SMS communicators.

I too have been frustrated with Sat Phone/Telstra service over the years. But with some light experience using and replying to Inreach, I'm not sure it isn't the case that you just get to see the delay in real time when using a sat phone, rather than sending a message from either that may or may not send immediately.

(Lets hope it's not an issue unique to your former personal satphone..)
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby ribuck » Wed 28 Oct, 2020 6:55 pm

It would certainly be a good idea for 000/112 to support text messages. But in the bush, the emergency function on the InReach does exactly the same thing - contacts an international S&R centre and uses two-way text messaging to establish the nature of the emergency and to organise rescue if appropriate.

It's not clear whether the original poster realises this. If there's a reluctance to use an international S&R service (who will hand over to the Australian S&R services), I suppose the fallback is to use the InReach to message a trusted contact who will call 000/112 on your behalf.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Nuts » Wed 28 Oct, 2020 8:15 pm

I had in mind being able to contact local emergency services direct, to decide on whether you had an emergency or to get help with more immediate medical situations. Thinking further, the only time I contacted EMS/S&R on a satphone (via a local police number) I found myself having to impress how serious i thought the condition was (and turned out to be) to the reluctant MD.. which might hint at one of the pitfalls.

I'm surprised they say they will call off the alert, I'd always thought (at least here) S&R would keep coming once activated (?)

Does anyone have any personal experience triggering inreach SOS and their communications?

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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby ribuck » Wed 28 Oct, 2020 11:26 pm

Nuts wrote:I'd always thought (at least here) S&R would keep coming once activated (?)

That's what happens with a PLB, naturally.

With two-way communications, if the user indicates that they no longer need assistance, what would be the point of S&R insisting on coming out anyway?

From the video you posted, I was interested to see that it's OK to use InReach to call for vehicle assistance. I had assumed that InReach emergency calls were only for "life and limb" situations.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Nuts » Thu 29 Oct, 2020 7:47 am

Yes, i'm sure our S&R would not be happy helping with a flat tyre, unless there was some other immediate emergency. Point being, they may also just treat the notification as a 'beacon alert', with their own protocols. And I doubt you could expect further advice to deal with your emergency from the alert centre, if advice was all you thought necessary.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby ribuck » Thu 29 Oct, 2020 8:21 am

Nuts wrote:Yes, i'm sure our S&R would not be happy helping with a flat tyre

I presume the response centre would discuss it with the user of the InReach, then contact an appropriate roadside assistance service on the user's behalf. A bit like when your car broke down in the old days, and you would give a piece of paper to a passing motorist with details to contact the NRMA when they reached a public phone.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Warin » Thu 29 Oct, 2020 8:28 am

Nuts wrote:Does anyone have any personal experience triggering inreach SOS and their communications?


With an old PLB (not 406), yes.
If the PLB is turned off before S&R reach you then they call off the S&R, this is for an activation of < 1 hour. Theymay have assumed it was a false activation rather than help arriving.
The S&R could be the local cop, farmer ... not necessarily a chopper - anyone that can get to you fast/first to assess the situation.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby Nuts » Thu 29 Oct, 2020 10:18 am

I do tend to think in terms of Tassie mtns and our (excellent) S&R system & teams.

Accept that the incidents can be so wide ranging. But even more so, if I were king of AMSA ( :) ) yes, I'd very likely be coming regardless, a beacon or it;s battery could fail, the person could have increasingly impaired judgement (with a medical condition) the alert could come from someone feeling threatened from another person, who's cancelling it..? so on.
Someone thought it was serious enough to alert, stopping an alert is even less likely and more questionable.

At the least, it would even take messages and then multiple messages to convince me to call of a response (as king :) )
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby FatCanyoner » Thu 29 Oct, 2020 10:59 am

From conversations with our local S&R (in my patch it's Blue Mountains Police Rescue that are the lead agency) the use of InReach or Spot devices to call in an emergency works pretty well. I was told it usually only takes about 15 minutes for the request to be routed through the US and on to the relevant Australian authorities. So if you call in a rescue with one of these, you'll get timely support.

I don't think the two way communication makes much difference to them. They have standard procedures to respond to emergencies. Even if you reached them by phone, they're not going to do a slower or more limited response based on what you tell them. The main reason is that you're not an expert, so you may not realise the seriousness or may only be providing a partial picture. If someone died because they took the word of the person needing rescue, it's the S&R team that would be fronting an inquest trying to explain themselves.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby wildwanderer » Fri 30 Oct, 2020 9:11 am

Ive owned a inreach for almost two years. Its a great device but their are limitations if your in terrain that has limited view of the sky aka narrow cliff lined valleys especially if forrested as well.

In challenging terrrain messages can sometimes take 2-3 hours to get through (as you need to wait for a Iridium satelite to pass within line of sight). and sometimes its hard to get a postion fix as inreach can only connect to the gps satelite constellation and not the many other postion fixing satelites constellations now in orbit. This means that when your in challenging terrain you often need to send messages without the location postion included.

I dont see any difference between using the inreach emergency sos service vs contacting austrailan sar directly via sms. As fat canyoner said the inreach emergency contractor GEOs passes on the info to Australian SAR promptly. Plus GEOS can bring up notes you have left on the inreach online portal regarding medical history or routes etc and also provide medical advice while your waiting for SAR to arrive.

While a PLB might have a greater chance of getting through to SAR quicker in my view the disadvantages of a PLB outweigh the advantages. most prominant being you dont know if your SOS has got through with a PLB. This might cause you to make a poor decision eg move to higher ground for a better signal and this would be a bad health move if you had a snake bite etc
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby headwerkn » Fri 30 Oct, 2020 1:50 pm

wildwanderer wrote:While a PLB might have a greater chance of getting through to SAR quicker in my view the disadvantages of a PLB outweigh the advantages. most prominant being you dont know if your SOS has got through with a PLB.


This.

I've heard many an argument for PLBs over InReachs due to signal type/strength etc. but ultimately only the InReach will give you confirmation. If you haven't received a response within 20-30 mins, you know there's an issue to resolve - get clear sky, get higher. With a PLB, all you've got is a blinking LED up until you can hear the approaching helicopter.

We own two InReachs now (one per person), which is a sizable initial and ongoing investment, but we hike a lot, are pushing into harder and remote areas, often change plans with minimal notice due to weather etc. and sometimes start out at different times due to work. For our needs, they're cheap insurance, along with all the benefits of two-way, non-emergency communication and tracking for those back-at-home. Occasionally the performance is slower than we'd like, but I've only had one real occasion in two years where the delays were unacceptable - that turned out to be a known issue Garmin was having the time during their whole 'hacker' thing.

We keep our PLB at hand too, just in case. I suppose if we ever have an emergency we can fire the lot off and ask the rescue crew which signal they got first ;-)
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby wayno » Fri 30 Oct, 2020 1:55 pm

PLB is far more likely to connect to the satellite... signal strength is about ten times stronger, antenna is far better and there are more satellites available to increase the chances of connectivity....
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby FatCanyoner » Fri 30 Oct, 2020 4:07 pm

wayno wrote:PLB is far more likely to connect to the satellite... signal strength is about ten times stronger, antenna is far better and there are more satellites available to increase the chances of connectivity....


As someone who spends a lot of time in canyons, where access to the sky can be limited, the above is the reason I carry a PLB.

On some more remote, exploratory stuff, we have taken an InReach as well. They are different tools for different uses. If we had an emergency, the PLB is what I would set off first. That gives the best chance of getting a timely rescue underway. The InReach would be a supplemental tool that may be able to establish further communication. What we did use it for was sending a message to some people back home before dropping into canyons so there was a record of exactly which canyon we were in. We then let them know we were out. If they didn't hear from us, they could contact emergency services. If there was a rescue needed, they could also provide precise coordinates to emergency services that would help speed up the search.
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Re: Use of InReach devices for emergency contacts

Postby headwerkn » Tue 03 Nov, 2020 8:59 am

PLB output is supposedly 5W whereas InReach devices are supposedly around 1.6W (that's what the old Delorne units were, Garmin don't specify output). However they operate on different frequencies and reference different satellites in different orbits (Iridium is all LEO, CORPAS-SARSAT is a mix of LEO, MEO and geostationary, hence the need for extra output power) so any comparison vis a vis signal strength is outside my paygrade.

PLBs do reference multiple orbits of satellites which does theoretically help their 'time to ping' in less than ideal connections. Like an InReach though they too need to receive signal from the GPS satellite system in order to encode positional data into their beacon output.

It was interesting to note in a recent Tasmanian rescue the authorities mentioned they had some difficulty pinpointing the beacon due to it having an old (read: out of date) battery. Obviously shows how critical it is to keep the units in-date.

I don't think two-way communication is used to triage or otherwise prioritise SAR operations - as you say, they have a SOP they follow regardless - but the ability to receive first aid/treatment info and updates on rescue ETA would be invaluable in many situations. An InReach was used for the Kitchen Hut hypothermia rescue last December... the people looking after the sick walkers were able to receive treatment advice and updates with the rescue (which was twice delayed due to weather conditions).

Ultimately PLBs can be thought of a one-trick pony that do there one thing very well. InReachs do many things, mostly excellently. I think it any case where you have any doubt as to the efficacy of either device, take one of each. At least then when they report your rescue on the news, you'll be described as an "experienced and fully prepared walker" ;-)
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