rescue helicopter wilderness search outside survival
An average of 3,000 search-and-rescue missions were deployed each year from 2009 to 2013. (Dusty Cline/Thinkstock)

Our Tech Is Making Us Cry Wolf

Do cell phones, satellite messengers, and personal locator beacons create more false alarms in the backcountry?

rescue helicopter wilderness search outside survival

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People have been getting into trouble in the wilderness since before the term existed. What's changed is how we call for help.

New technologies make it easier than ever to broadcast our plight; they also increase our ability to cry wolf. Are we sounding more false alarms? It depends on the device: personal locator beacons, for example, are responsible for hundreds of false alarms every year, while cell-phone calls to park-ranger stations tend to be legit.

Of course, unnecessary alerts are only part of the picture. To better understand the changing landscape, we looked at reams of data from various search-and-rescue agencies.