PLB to the rescue

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Envision a beautiful hike through the majestic boreal forest in the interior of Alaska. 

This perfect vision is shattered when the hiker slips and falls breaking both legs. Sound like fiction? Think again. With no way to call for help, what do you do? 

When you enter the forests or mountains of Alaska you can potentially be hundreds of miles from the nearest human being and rescue. So what can help fill that gap and potentially save your life?

Personal Locator Beacon to the rescue! A PLB is a device about the size of a handheld radio that can save your life. How can this little gadget do that you ask? 

PLBs send out digital distress signals which are picked up by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites and Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites. GOES, the first to detect a beacon's distress signal, hover in a fixed orbit above Earth and receive the signals, which contain registration information about the beacon and its owner. The POES constantly circle the globe, enabling them to capture and accurately locate the alerts to within a few miles. 

The satellites are part of the worldwide satellite search and rescue system called, Cospas-Sarsat. The Cospas-Sarsat system is a cluster of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Russian satellites that work together to detect distress signals anywhere in the world transmitted from PLBs and from beacons carried aboard ships and airplanes. 

Another agency involved for rescue is the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center which acts as the single federal agency for coordinating search and rescue missions in the inland regions of the 48 contiguous states. 

Now that should make you feel pretty safe about going out on an adventure in the last frontier. But, before you decide to flip the switch on that PLB and send for help, there are a few things you should be aware of. 

Under what conditions should a victim call for rescue or evacuation? 
It is commonly accepted that calls for rescue and evacuation are appropriate in situations where conditions are life-threatening. Such conditions might include immobilizing injuries, lack of shelter and/or clothing in combination with unexpectedly cold conditions, or a severely weakened physical condition caused by several days without food or water. 

In general, a rescue should not be initiated until the victim has exhausted reasonable means for survival and self-extraction. In severely inclement weather conditions where a victim is at a high risk of exposure-related injuries--(hypothermia or frostbite, then any and all means of shelter and warmth including clothing, fires, tents, etc., should be employed for survival. In the absence of such means, a rescue may be appropriate. 

So make sure you have exhausted all means of self-rescue before you flip that switch, because search and rescue missions are not cheap and you could be held financially liable if the rescue was not under appropriate conditions. 

PLBs can cost in the area of $600 and are sold at most sporting good stores. Luckily for us here at Eielson AFB, PLBs are available for check-out in the 354th Fighter Wing Wing Safety Office. So, if you're headed out into the great outdoors and would like a security blanket, just stop by the safety office and we will be happy to sign a PLB out to you. 

Remember, Alaska with all of its beauty can be very unforgiving if you are not prepared.
Editors note: The 354th FW/SEG is located in Amber Hall, room 181, and our contact numbers are 377-1842/4260/1351.