Last month, our SAR team responded to lost hikers in Warren Creek, a steep, thickly-wooded, snow-covered canyon that terminates in a cliff. In the past, Warren Creek rescues were all-nighters, sometimes spilling into the next day. But for this mission, smart phones helped us rapidly find the lost. We made phone contact, had the hikers read us their altitude and GPS coordinates, and directed them to follow the compass on their phone. We had the cell phone company ping their phone a few times, to get accurate coordinates within a few hundred feet. Now, crisis mapping is the new buzzword in using telecom tech to respond to disasters like the Haiti earthquake. We all know smart phones have limitations: dead battery, deep canyons, and lack of instruction can render a smart phone useless. Nonetheless: should a smart phone now be a permanent part of modern-day "ten essentials?"
Cell and GPS reception worldwild, even on our trek to a remote hill top clinic outside Verrettes, Haiti.
--Christopher Van Tilburg, MD