Technology Aids in Backcountry Communication
With a service area that includes some of the most rugged backcountry in Vermont, Stowe Mountain Rescue is very familiar with dealing with communication obstacles. The volunteer team of 16 responds to approximately 40 calls per year. They make use of digital mobile data applications, portable radios and extensive use of personal cell phones. Team Chief Doug Veliko says if the FirstNet system can give his team a signal boost, he can’t wait to use it.
“We operate in several backcountry areas that have poor radio communications and no cell phone coverage,” said Veliko. “This severely complicates mission logistics and creates safety concerns. Having a statewide broadband LTE network with comprehensive coverage would resolve several communication problems. It would improve our ability to communicate data from the field to the command post.”
Stowe Mountain Rescue is used within the town of Stowe for any medical, stranded or lost person calls in the backcountry. They respond in mutual aid throughout Vermont, including responding to rope or swift water rescues. To assist them in their response, the team takes advantage of all the technology available to them.
“Our paging system is through Active911, an application that send alerts to our smart phones. This creates a quick picture of a team member’s availability for a given mission. The mapping also allows us to see the location of a team member as they are responding to a call. We also use several smart phone apps to communicate coordinates. One Touch utilizes GPS coordinates to allow team members to track the exact location of individual rescue personnel—particularly important when they are in remote areas,” explained Veliko.
Another application the team uses is the UTM Grid Ref Compass. Using a smart phone, the user can view their current location using the Universal Transverse Mercator grid, along with a compass bearing, and latitude and longitude values. The team has several rugged laptops, but they don’t take them into the field due to space and weight constraints. On Veliko’s wish list, after a reliable signal, is having the state’s E911 maps accessible on his smart phone.
Veliko has been a team member for more than 25 years and team chief for the last three years. He works at GlobalFoundries as an electrical engineer. He likes that his volunteer work with Stowe Mountain Rescue allows him to combine his strong affinity for backcountry recreation and technology. His hope that as access to technology grows in Vermont, so will his team’s use of tools that will make their response faster and safer.