by Joe Brown
Wired Magazine heads to the wilderness to put the SPOT Satellite Messenger and the International Emergency Response Coordination Center to the test.
How do you truly test a device that beams your coordinates into space and dispatches a rescue squad to your exact location? You get lost. And that’s exactly what I did — in Tahoe National Forest, an 800,000-acre home to bears, coyotes, mountain lions, avalanches, sub zero temperatures, gale-force winds, and, for a weekend in December, a Wired satellite office.
The Spot GPS Messenger, which is about the size of an ’80s-era pager, relays your exact latitude and longitude to one of 48 orbiting satellites every 10 minutes. You can set the device to automatically upload this data to a Web site so your buds can follow your crazy adventures; you can push a button to send canned messages from the middle of nowhere, assuring your parents that you’re OK; you can even call for roadside assistance (for an extra $30 a year). But the gizmo really shines in an emergency: Flip open the SOS safety cap to hit the 911 button and Spot will fire off an urgent message to the GEOS International Emergency Response Center in Houston. GEOS will then figure out the best purveyors of rescue — cops, Coast Guard, US embassy, or, in this case, Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, a volunteer group of snow-happy badasses located in Placer County, California.
A word of caution: Please don’t try this. Ever. I spent months working with Spot, GEOS, and TNSAR to coordinate this exercise. At no point was anyone under the impression that I was in real danger.
Still, planned or not: If I had to be the rabbit, I’d be no easy meat.