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PostPosted: August 23rd, 2018, 10:10 am 
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Joined: February 17th, 2014, 11:51 am
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This year we splurged and bought an in-reach explorer unit by Garmin which offers emergency services like a Spot but with additional text messaging capacity. We first tested out the system on a small 3 d trip in Eastern Ontario and the brought the system with us on our recently completed 14 d trip in Wabakimi.

Before getting into the details of our emergency, I'd like to express a few opinions about the In Reach. We purchased the In-Reach Explorer which is a model down from the Plus addition that has some additional mapping capabilities. I already have a fully functional GPS (Garmin 650T) and feel that it defeats the purpose to use an emergency beacon for everyday navigation which puts the unit at risk during common use in the boat. However, the unit does bluetooth connect to a smartphone and we found this very useful for taking advantage of the texting capabilities of the unit. You can download topomaps to your smartphone and use that for mapping. However, we found the dowloaded topo's used with the phone to be much less detailed compared to Garmin's normal maps included in their Canada TOPO 100 basemap series.

The satellite service plans are quite reasonable. There is an initiation fee of $30.00 plus the monthly plan that you select. We opted for the unlimited texting plan which is $74/mo. Once a plan has been signed up for you are set with it for a minimum of 30 days. After that period you can change plans to a lower or higher plan or place the unit in suspension (no plan) for dormancy periods. The suspension plan costs $3.00 per month but if you retain it on a suspension plan you can change to a different plan at anytime without having to pay the activation fee again. So basically, if you use the unit for more than 3 months in the year it is a bit cheaper to keep it in suspension in the off months compared to completely cancelling your plan and paying a reactivation fee again. Overall, I felt this was reasonable. The activation process to get the system to work was quite easy. We read some reviews where people had a difficult time getting the system activated. I'm not a techy by any stretch but it was very simple for us to do.

Actual use. We liked the texting capability when paired with the smartphone. It is very tedious to type in messages using the unit's own interface. Tethering it to the phone also means you can access all the contacts in your phone. You install the Earthmate app on your phone and run your messages through that app instead of the normal messaging software your phone uses. For our Wabakimi trip, we found it very useful to text our daughter each night. You have the option of sending a Map with your location automatically with your text message and our daughter thought that was really cool. The premium plan we selected also gives you the ability to download weather forecasts each day. This was incredibly useful. When you download a weather forecast it gives you a five day weather synopsis much like you get on any internet based weather channel. Each day's forecast is broken into 4 h intervals that gives temp, POP and windspeed/direction. All of this was super handy and helped us prepare for the day ahead better then ever before on our extended trips.

Non-medical emergency use. During our trip we came in relatively close proximity (maybe 5-7 km) from an active forest fire that was not on the Ontario Fire Map page at the time we started our trip. We saw the smoke while on the lower Wabakimi to the north. As we were headed away towards Smoothrock lake we continued on our journey but stopped just west of the lower Wabakimi chain of falls to camp for the night. The smoke was moving in a different direction then our camp, but still rather ominous. We used the in-reach to contact our daughter and give us an update on the Ontario Firemap site. She reported to us at the time that there were no fires listed in the area. We then had our daughter contact the park staff for further details. We were able to call up our previous contacts with the park from our phone and give our daughter the direct email address of the staff person we were talking with previously. By the next morning our daughter was able to rely the information given to her by the park staff and we were able to assess the status and location of the fire to beter help our decision about how to proceed. We found this incredibly useful. Maybe not as useful as full sat phone capability, but ultimately sufficient information to allow us to deal with the situation at hand.

Medical emergency use. Fortunately, we completed our 14 d trip without incidence. However, in our haste to get out of the fire's range we ended our trip 3 days earlier than originally planned. So we started on a more leisurely pace driving home, taking advantage of our drive through Lake Superior PP and stopping along many of the trails on the way. We hiked down to the pictographs at Agawa Rock. As we were heading back I heard a crash and a woman yell out. We went towards the sound and found a man holding the hand of the woman lying on the ground who had fallen. Her ankle was completely swollen and when the man (her son) moved her foot it was clearly a bad break at the ankle. He asked for our help in trying to carry her back to the parking lot. However, this section of the trail, while only 400 m long is very steep and rocky. Two more gentlemen tried to help in a full body carry up the slope but the terrain proved too difficult. Plus, the woman was in incredible pain being carried like that. It was clear she needed a litter. If it were a true backcountry situation we would have created one on site. However, given we were close to the road I walked back to the truck and tried to use my cellphone to call 911 but the service did not allow me to call out. I then grabbed the in-reach and went back to them and asked if I could call the emergency services via our device. They accepted and I activated the SOS button.

Having brought my phone as well, I was able to text along with the activation that it was a non-life threatening emergency and a broken ankle. The unit gives a 20 second warning countdown after you hit the SOS to cancel if required and then the emergency response activated. The screen turns red notifying that it is in SOS mode. The call centre called me back and I was surprised that they were able to get my phone to work - perhaps through an emergency service router. However, they couldn't understand me by phone and asked that I communicate through text via the unit. I sent them text messages of what happened, the distance down the trail where the accident occurred and that an ambulance with a litter or stretcher needed to be sent. In Reach contacted the Wawa OPP and gave them the details. Wawa OPP were able to call me through my phone and our connection seemed secure enough to communicate. They asked the details and told me they were on their way along with an ambulance. At that point I shut down the emergency activation of the in-reach. The police did ask me to stay put until they arrived which was about 1.5 h. During this time, somebody had also gone to the visitor's center to notify park staff of the event. They sent a crew down first and then the crew radioed in the Warden who came over to help and he concurred that waiting for the OPP/ambulance was the best option.

When the OPP arrived, he took down all of my information. He was a really nice officer and thanked us for calling the incident in. The ambulance and police officer went down and geared themselves for 'a little cardio' as the officer put it. When we came into normal cell phone range, we found several follow up messages from In-Reach. I called the call-centre via the phone number provided to indicate them that the situation was handled. They thanked me and told me that the OPP had also closed the file. My wife also noticed that in-reach had contacted her cellphone as well as our daughter's cell phone as they were in our emergency contact lists. It did generate a little bit of alarm to our daughter but overall I was impressed at how well the system worked. The woman in question and her son were also very thankful that we had the unit with us. After getting home we contacted In-Reach as I was 'sure' there would be some kind of charge related to the call centre's time and handling of our case. To my surprise, there was no charge. They indicated we would have to pay for any texts outside of our plan used during the emergency but since we had an unlimited text plan there was no additional fees. I was pretty amazed by this.

Perhaps, my admittedly click-bait title, wasn't quite as exciting as some of you might have expected. However, I am really happy to experience just what happens when you actually initiate an emergency response in a situation that fortunately was not life threatening but did require legitimate professional medical help. I also feel that the ability to communicate with the device after activation is a major benefit of the text-capability the in reach system has to offer. I'm also really glad we were able to help some fellow nature lovers out when they needed it.

Ken


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PostPosted: August 23rd, 2018, 10:57 am 
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Joined: December 20th, 2003, 9:27 am
Posts: 917
Everything worked as one would hope - very reassuring.
Thanks for posting.


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PostPosted: August 24th, 2018, 5:59 pm 
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Joined: October 31st, 2016, 9:32 pm
Posts: 98
Location: Missoula, Montana
A couple months ago some friends carried their inflatable kayaks and gear down a long steep trail into a canyon to do an overnight run on a Class IV-V creek in Northern California. When they got to the put-in, one of the friends, who is 64, started fainting. The group didn't know what the problem was, but thought he might be having a stroke. So the other friend fired up his InReach and hit the emergency button. Quite quickly a California Highway Patrol helicopter arrived at the pretty remote put-in and took him to a hospital. It turned out that he was having a heart attack. They installed a stent that day, and he was back in action in a couple of weeks. Everybody, and especially the guy who had the heart attack, was very impressed with how well the InReach emergency service worked.

It was lucky that a Highway Patrol helicopter was in the area and able to respond to the emergency, because the flight out was free. Evacuations by medical emergency flight services can be extremely expensive in the US.


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