In the summer of 2016 Central Beacons Mountain Rescue (CBMRT) in Wales decided to embrace the latest in mapping technologies and went live with a solution incorporating communications satellites and GPS. The new Globalstar-based system enabled CBMRT to get a precise and instant situational awareness of its own resources thereby making its search and rescue operations faster and more resource-efficient.
Previously, when called to an emergency, CBMRT relied on asking search and rescue (SAR) teams: “Where are you?” This appraoch reqiured each rescue team to update the control room continually with its location by radio, or using mobile phone tracking whenever there was sufficient signal. But this positioning information often was not very accurate, particularly when teams were carrying out operations in the mountains where there could often be poor visibility and extreme weather conditions, and poor mobile signal. With rescuers frequently relying on descriptions of the landscape, location data could not be considered reliable.
CBMRT chose a Mapyx mapping solution, which incorporates GPS data transmitted by SPOT Gen3 satellite trackers mounted on the dashboard of each vehicle and on rescue teams’ backpacks. CBMRT had seen first-hand how successful this technology had proven through other rescue teams using it.
Using Mapyx and SPOT Gen3 devices, mountain rescue teams are able to speed up rescue operations by rapidly identifying and locating the closest team to dispatch to a casualty. The CBMRT team executed over 140 rescues in 2017, which included a record number of injured walkers and climbers, missing persons, animal rescues and swiftwater incidents.
“As well as improving the effectiveness of our rescues, our asset management capabilities improved instantly,” said Rich Terrell, Deputy Team Leader at CBMRT. “We set up one of the buttons on the SPOT device to send a message saying ‘I need a pick up’, which is used when team members get separated; this is a critical function in those valleys without phone signal or radio communications.
“Our team of 50 volunteers comes from a broad cross-section of society including teachers, accountants and IT technicians. We needed a solution that was easy for everyone to use without specialist training. Mapyx and SPOT fits the bill,” Rich further commented.
He explained that the system’s operations are enhanced thanks to its integration with CBMRT’s neighbouring teams’ system. “If there is casualty on a ridge between our two areas, using Mapyx we can instantly see which mountain rescue team is closest,” added Rich.
“The Brecon Beacons region is a popular destination for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. With a rising number of DofE organisers and schools using Mapyx and SPOT devices, we can quickly and easily organise rescues if any local expedition presses the SOS button on their SPOT Gen3.”
Everything had been working perfectly for 18 months when, at the end of November 2017, there was a fire at the CBMRT rescue centre in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but approximately £500,000 worth of damage was sustained to vehicles, and emergency rescue and medical equipment was destroyed, along with severe smoke damage to the base.
It is likely to be at least a year before CBMRT can fully recover and replace everything lost in the fire. In the short term, the team is relying on loan vehicles and equipment, some donated equipment and volunteers’ own cars.
“Individuals and equipment providers are being generous. Fortunately, SPOT has sent us ten replacement devices for free so we are back up and running with satellite GPS and tracking. Millions of people visit the Brecon Beacons each year and keeping them all safe is always our priority,” concluded Rich.
To donate to CBMR’s appeal to replace vital equipment, please click here.